Hidalgo County Republican Party Chairman Hollis Rutledge has contacted Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams personally over the general election vote totals fiasco in Hidalgo County.
Rutledge told the Guardian he contacted Williams after speaking with Hidalgo County Democratic Party Juan Maldonado. Rutledge said both major political parties were in agreement that something needed to be done to avoid similar screw-ups in the future.
"We know that no matter which version of the three or four different voting totals we were given is correct, the actual election results will not change," Rutledge said.
"We simply want answers because we are concerned about the integrity of the process in the future. We all realize that if we do not get to the bottom of this, the average Joe Blow in Hidalgo County will lose confidence that his vote is being counted correctly."
Hidalgo County's Elections Department uses e-voting machines from Election Systems & Software Inc.
Problems with ES&S's e-voting machines also surfaced last week in Williamson County. Williamson County Elections Administrator Debra Stacy resigned Friday. The Austin American-Statesman has reported that the county blamed vote total errors on elections software. However, after ES&S reviewed an audit trail of the 82 machines used, the company reported that the errors were the fault of county workers.
Rutledge said he had yet to be given an official explanation for the voting discrepancies in Hidalgo County but said he was confident an answer would come soon. He said Williams has assured him that the matter would be looked into and that a high-ranking representative from ES&S would be paying a visit to Edinburg.
"I had a good conversation with both Roger Williams and the Secretary of State's general counsel Jay Dyer. I have been told it was a technical glitch and that I can can go view the software at any time. I plan to do it," Rutledge said.
The apparent "technical glitches" occurred in the special elections for Congressional Districts 15 and 28. Almost every candidate in those races has complained publicly about being given conflicting vote totals though none has asked for a recount.
"We do not plan to file an official complaint but we do plan to use the public comment period at commissioners' court next Tuesday to voice our concern," said Mando Garza, campaign manager for District 28 Democratic challenger Frank Enriquez.
Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Teresa Navarro blamed a "programming error" after Ron Avery, a Constitutional Party candidate in District 28, came out ahead of incumbent U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Enriquez on election night.
"We knew there was no way that could be correct," Navarro said. "It was a coding-slash-programming error. I can tell you the programmer is devastated."
Paul Haring, a Republican Party challenger in District 15, told the Guardian he would like to see an independent investigation into the problems in Hidalgo County.
Haring said he understood that the e-voting machines recorded the correct number of votes but there was an error in programming the tabulations.
"I think my vote changed three times. Across the district I got around 16,000 votes and then it was reduced to 13,000. From what I have been told the reduction came from Hidalgo County," said Haring, an attorney from Goliad and a former state representative.
"I don't know if the final totals are correct or not. I think the best thing would be for an independent investigation into the whole situation."
Edcouch salesman Eddie Zamora, another Republican in the District 15 race, said he was told election night that he received 274 votes in Hidalgo County. He immediately disputed the figure and was later told he may have received 4,146 votes in his home county.
Tom Haughey, executive director of Hidalgo County Republican Party, wrote a detailed account of the voting discrepancies this week in his weekly column for the Pharr Advance News Journal.
Haughey questioned the vote totals in the general election and the special elections.
"I find it hard to believe that Rick Perry could advertise heavily and receive endorsements from most Hidalgo County mayors but garner only four and half percent above the Republican straight party vote while his Democratic opponent did virtually nothing in the Valley but beat Perry by over 4,000 votes and at the same time received an amazing eight percent less than the straight party Democrat vote," Haughey wrote.
"I also find it strange that one in every 200 voters would vote straight party Libertarian on paper ballots but that one in five would vote would vote straight Libertarian by machine. Go figure! That's exactly what we need to do."
Maldonado said Rutledge was right to go straight to the top and quiz Williams about the events in Hidalgo County.
"Imagine what a shambles this would be if it had happened in the Hidalgo county judge's race, when the two candidates were separated by just 300 votes," Maldonado said. "I do not want to criticize anybody but for the sake of the voters we need to be assured about the integrity of these voting machines."
Maldonado said he had been a supporter of a verifiable paper trail "from day one." He said he could "never get a handle" on how much extra the county would have needed to pay to get such additional equipment. Maldonado said he fully supported legislation filed by state Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, that would require electronic voting systems to produce a verifiable paper trail.
Ashley Burton, a spokeswoman for Williams, would not confirm that the secretary of state had been in conversations with Rutledge. She did confirm that her office had held "numerous conversations with ES&S over the past several weeks."
In an e-mailed response, Burton said she had limited understanding of the situation in Hidalgo County.
"Basically there was a programming error with the vote tabulation. The voting machines worked as they should, but when they went to tabulate the votes, the programming was switching votes. However, they caught the error immediately and corrected it," Burton said. "That would explain the changing results that night."
Burton emphasized the word "immediately."
This article appeared in the Rio Grande Guardian, www.riograndeguardian.com and is reprinted with the express consent of it's author Steve Taylor.