Judge overturns city council election in South Texas over ‘illegally-cast’ votes

Edinburg City Councilor David White says he plans to appeal the decision.

By Kristen Cabrera & Sean SaldanaJune 5, 2024 10:45 am,

They say every vote counts, and nowhere is that more true at the moment than in Hidalgo County. 

Last fall, a city council election in Edinburg came down to the wire when City Councilor David White won reelection by just ten votes. Then, just a few months after Election Day, his challenger, Gerardo Lozano, contested the results. 

This past week, David White’s win was overturned when a judge ruled that several votes were placed illegally. 

Dina Arévalo has been following this story for The Monitor/myRGV in the Rio Grande Valley and she joined the Standard to discuss. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: The incumbent, David White, as I understand it, was already serving on city council. Can you talk about why his challenger, Gerardo Lozano, decided to dispute these election results? 

Dina Arévalo: Yeah. About a month after the election, Gerry Lozano actually filed a lawsuit challenging the results of the election and saying that a number of votes had been illegally cast. And last week, a judge sided in favor of Mr. Lozano and said that indeed, enough votes had been disqualified to overturn the results of the election. 

How did the judge who ruled in this case determine that these votes were illegally cast?

Well, it was during a bench trial last week that lasted about four days. The judge ruled that some of the votes had been cast by voters who had been illegally assisted to cast their ballots. And as such, they were disqualified. 

“Illegally assisted.” What’s that? 

So a voter is qualified to receive assistance to cast their ballot if they meet certain conditions, such as if they have a physical disability, they cannot read or write in English or Spanish, or they physically cannot enter the polling place. And more than a dozen of these voters you found were driven to the polls and cast their votes curbside when they were not qualified for such assistance under the election code. 

Now, let me ask you about something. As I understand it, a lot of this case hinges on something called “politiqueras,” which is a term associated with South Texas politics. What’s that? 

A politiquera is a paid or volunteer campaign worker. And the allegations in this case are that politiqueras drove certain voters who did not need assistance to the polling place. 

Is that against state law?

It’s not against the law to provide transportation to the polling place.

What the judge found in this case is that it was against the Texas election code to provide voters assistance who did not need assistance, and who were physically capable of entering the polling place. They did not qualify for curbside voting. 

Well, it’s interesting because we quite often hear from the Secretary of State’s office in Texas that there is widespread voter fraud. And we often hear from journalists and from political researchers in Texas that there really isn’t much voter fraud in Texas. Surprises me that at a bench trial, notably without a jury, we have a judge who’s overturning the results of an election and effectively kicking White out of office, right? 

Yes and no. The judge did find that the election needed to be overturned, but the story isn’t over yet. David White plans on appealing this decision, which could take several more months. 

Well, in the meantime, what about the city council? Are they operating with one vacancy or what?

No, the city council is operating the same as before. In fact, they had a meeting last night and Mr. White was there on the dais. 

And what is White saying about his next steps? 

White is insisting that he will appeal the decision. That means now this case will be in the hands of the 13th Court of Appeals, which is also here in Edinburg.

I want to understand something about politics at the local level there. When it comes to city council, people are not running as Republicans or Democrats, I presume. Is that right?

No. City elections are nonpartisan elections. And that’s true statewide.

So I’m curious as to whether or not there is some level of political intrigue in the background that you’re picking up on there.

Yes, there is a little bit of a political intrigue in the background.

Some of the allegations in this lawsuit against David White are that he received help from a member of a prominent political family, known as the Palacios family. They have political influence throughout the county, including the DA’s office – which David White works as a criminal investigator for them – former DA’s and other politicians throughout Edinburg and throughout the county.

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