Starr County Dems to challenge mail-in ballot rejection

The Democratic Party of Starr County is seeking to intervene in an ongoing federal case that is challenging the way mail-in ballots are accepted or rejected.

By jumping in now, the party is seeking to challenge the constitutionality of state procedures by which Early Voting Ballot Boards decide whether to reject or accept mail-in ballots ahead of the July primary runoff elections.

“(The Starr County Democratic Party) is especially interested in securing relief in time for the July runoffs, and intervention in this lawsuit to seek a timely ruling is the most efficient means of seeking such relief,” the party stated in its motion to join the lawsuit. “If intervention is denied, SCDP will have to seek the same relief by filing a new lawsuit in this judicial division.”

This lawsuit was originally filed on April 11, 2018 in state district court by Leticia Garza Galvan and Martie Garcia Vela, who had just come off unsuccessful political campaigns for Starr County judge and 229th state district court judge, respectively.

They stated that in Starr County’ March 2018 Democratic primary, Garza Galvan had trailed in her race by 159 votes while Garcia Vela trailed by 106.

By comparison, Starr County officials reported that out of 1,089 mail-in ballots submitted, 13.5%, or 147 ballots were rejected by the EVBB.

They filed the lawsuit against then Secretary of State Rolando Pablos and members of the Starr County Early Voting Ballot Board, challenging the rejection of mail-in ballots.

Their suit questioned the constitutionality of Texas procedures of rejecting mail-in ballots for perceived signature mismatch “without providing an opportunity to cure defects so that the vote may be counted in the present election.”

They also claimed constitutional violations by the way in which members of the EVBB were appointed and how those members decided whether to reject or accept ballots.

On April 16, the case was removed from state court and filed in federal court where four voters whose mail-in ballots were rejected, joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs.

Ruth R. Hughes, the current secretary of state, has since replaced Pablos as the defendant in the case.

Given the amount of time that has elapsed since the filing, Garza Galvan and Garcia Vela have also been removed as plaintiffs in the case. However, Garcia Vela is now representing the party in the case.

In their motion filed Friday, the party noted that in the upcoming primary runoffs, slated for July 14, there are two statewide races for Democrats — one to decide the nominee for U.S. senator and the other to decide the nominee for Railroad commissioner.

During this year’s primary election on March 3, about 579 votes were cast by mail and, of those, 87 were rejected by the EVBB, the party stated in its motion to intervene, mostly on the basis of “a perceived signature discrepancy.”

Another circumstance that makes this a pressing issue, the party argues, is the current global pandemic.

“With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, more people will likely continue to ‘socially distance’ themselves and will choose to vote by mail, thus an increase in (ballots by mail) is expected in Texas for the upcoming run off and general elections,” the party stated.

Ballots are rejected in every election for possible discrepancies, they stated, arguing again that there’s no opportunity given to voters to fix those discrepancies.

“The Party has a pressing interest in securing relief before further votes are thrown out without a constitutionally sufficient cure process,” the party stated. “This is true in any election; it is more acute at this particular moment as more voters may wish to avail themselves of mail-in balloting.”

As of Monday afternoon, the defendants had not yet filed a response regarding the party’s wish to intervene in the case.

In a previous filing, however, the state argued that early voting was handled at the county level and therefore responsibility did not lie with them.

Additionally, state officials argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing to file the case against them and claimed immunity.