Starr County election judge facing complaint for canceling dozens of ballots

A Starr County election judge is facing an election complaint for allegedly canceling 49 ballots during the early voting period.

Freddy Alvarez, an election judge for the Rio Grande City Grulla Independent School District election, is the subject of an election complaint filed with the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

The complaint, filed by former Starr County Democratic Chair Hilda Gonzalez Garza, alleges Alvarez canceled 49 ballots in which voters either left a race blank, bubbled in multiple candidates for one race or marked their choice with an “X.”

Gonzalez Garza said she discovered this issue when she went to vote Monday.

She said that while she voted in the school board races for Place 5, Place 6, and Place 7, she decided not to vote in the Place 3 race since it was unopposed.

When she placed her paper ballot through the voting machine, she said the machine “spit my paper ballot out” because she had not bubbled in a candidate in the Place 3 race.

She said she asked Alvarez about the issue, and he allegedly told her that if she left a position blank, the machine required that she press “cast.”

“I asked him what would have happened if I had walked away without pressing cast and he indicated that he would have canceled my ballot for not pressing cast,” Gonzalez Garza wrote in the complaint.

She asked Alvarez if this had happened before and he allegedly told her it had happened on at least nine ballots where one race had been left blank and on 40 ballots where multiple candidates had been bubbled in for one race or an “X” had been marked.

When this happened, the voter had walked away or driven away before they could press “cast,” Gonzalez Garza alleged.

When reached for comment late Wednesday, Alvarez called Gonzalez Garza a “liar” but declined to comment further. He referred questions to the Starr County Elections Department, which had already closed for business at 5 p.m.

Gonzalez Garza said via phone Wednesday that she took issue with only some voters being asked to press “cast” for their votes to be counted, arguing that either every voter should be required to press “cast” or no one should.

Without the knowledge that they need to take that extra step, Gonzalez Garza said, voters will just leave.

She also noted that this step would pose a problem for absentee voters.

“What will happen to the mail in ballots that have the same situation? Obviously the absentee voter cannot press ‘cast,’” Gonzalez Garza wrote in the complaint. “I believe this is an abuse of power by the presiding judge and an error in the programming of the voting machine.”

She also pointed out that voters in this situation are not given an opportunity to remedy their error but are automatically being canceled.

“He is not allowing for the voter’s ballot to be counted as they intended to vote, even on the positions that were voted correctly,” she said. “It should have been cast even if there was a blank or double mark so that at least some of the positions could have been counted.”

Gonzalez Garza said she is still waiting to hear back from the secretary of state’s office on the issue.