Facing scrutiny, former county commish with felony conviction resigns from ballot board 

Former Hidalgo County commissioner Sylvia Handy, who served time in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges related to mishandling taxpayer money, abruptly resigned Sunday from the local committee that reviews mail-in ballots — a resignation which came a day after The Monitor published a story about her appointment by the county’s Democratic party.

“Ms. Handy has resigned her appointment effective immediately,” Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chairwoman Norma Ramirez said during a Facebook livestream hosted by CBS News 4. The television station’s news director, Amy Sullivan, said there was no news release announcing the event.

“I think that it was a good thing, a good thing not only for the Hidalgo County Democratic Party, but it’s a good thing for the citizens of Hidalgo County,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in response to hearing of Handy’s news. “I think that if there were any issues with anyone this will eliminate those issues, and we can move forward.”

On Saturday, The Monitor published a story reporting concerns from the chairs of the Hidalgo County Republican Party and the Texas Democratic Party, in which both were critical of Handy’s appointment to the Signature Verification Committee, a group entrusted with the verification of signatures on mail-in ballots and their preparation for counting. 

Handy, who has a criminal record but is otherwise legally eligible to serve on the board, was appointed after the Hidalgo County Democratic Party failed to find sufficient volunteers for the job, according to Handy. 

While the county party chair, Norma Ramirez, did not respond to a request for comment from The Monitor, the party chair at the state level underscored the problem with the optics of selecting someone with a felony conviction.

“Certainly, [that’s] something that should be considered by the chair when making the determination both because of the perception, because of the concerns other people might have regarding a person with that prior conviction,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilbert Hinojosa said.

At Sunday’s news conference, Handy, reading from prepared statements, said: “The Democrats are a party of second chances.”

She also addressed her criminal history and said she took responsibility for the crime which she maintains she did not commit.

“I believe in second chances, because I know many don’t get one,” Adrienne Peña-Garza, the Hidalgo County Republican Party Chair, said Sunday night reacting to the news. 

She added, “but I don’t think felons or those in the middle of an ongoing investigation should be counting or comparing signatures of mail-in ballots. That’s all!” 

Handy ended her shared comments with a message to voters, “The focus should be on this very important general election, and not on me,” she said.

The resignation is effective immediately. According to the state’s election code, the vacancy can be filled by members approved in the original list or from a new list submitted by the county chair.