Wants to clean up voting behavior for future elections

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

The 79th District Attorney Joe Frank Garza has begun an investigation into alleged election fraud that took place during the March 4 Primary.

With rampant complaints to both his office and the offices of other county officials, Garza said the people are concerned and the time to act is now.

"I've received too many calls, had too many people approach me. This is more than a few," Garza said.

He sees it as his mission these last few months in office to remedy the election situation in his district for the sake of all future elections.

On Monday, Garza sent a letter to the Texas Attorney General's Criminal Investigative Division outlining several of the complaints he has received since the election.

Included in that packet were copies of articles written by the Alice Echo-News Journal, and statements made by numerous citizens and county officials.

Those complaints include allegations of voters being turned away from the polls because mail-in ballots were counted in their name, despite the residents not having requested one, issues involving citizens handling ballots for other voters, and duplicate mail-in ballot applications received by the Elections Administrator's office.

In his letter, Garza requested the AG's office begin an investigation.

"I know I said that my office would not get involved in an investigation, but I feel time is of the essence on something like this," Garza said.

Should the AG's office come in and start an investigation, Garza said his office would turn over all information they have received up to that point, and if asked, would assist with the investigation.

For now though, Garza said he and his investigators will continue with the investigation into possible election fraud. As part of his investigation, Garza said he will seek to impound all election material after the recounts are completed this week.

"If they (the AG's Office) decide not to come in, I will proceed with my investigation. I'm not doing this to see if I can overturn an election, or anything like that. I'm just trying to find out if there was any fraud, and if so, what was the extent of it," Garza said. "Let's see if we can eliminate this for future elections. That's my main concern."

Despite earlier considerations Garza had of contesting his race against his opponent Armando Barrera, Garza said he will not file paperwork to contest the race. He said he may request a recount of the ballots, but has decided to turn his attention these last few months towards improving the election climate of Jim Wells and Brooks counties, and not fighting an election which he feels is over.

"The election is over, Mr. Barrera won, we just need to move forward," Garza said. "The election fraud investigation, as far as I see it, doesn't have anything to do with who won or who lost. It will be a full blown investigation, and have no impact on my election."

As part of his investigation, Garza has filed a request with the Jim Wells County Elections Administrator's office seeking copies of all mail-in ballot applications where the voter requested their ballot by mail to be cancelled.

He is also requesting a list of voters who indicated they had not requested a mail ballot but received one anyway, copies of all mail-in ballots that were rejected and copies of all mail-in ballot applications where the voter did not return a voted ballot. Garza said he will request the same information from Brooks County election officials.

Garza said he will wait a day or two for the Attorney General's office to contact him on whether they would proceed with an investigation. In the meantime, Garza said he will continue his office's investigation.

As far as those who may be responsible for possible voter fraud, Garza said he will take the investigation as far as it will go, to whomever it leads, whether that is ballot handlers or even elected officials.

Garza said his mission the next few months is to make things right.