in Houston, Texas
No politics in dropped cases: DA
Monday, Aug 16, 2010, 04:58PM CST
By Steve Miller

Continued from page 1

Guerra is aware of the murmurings that continue after the dismissal, that the county’s powerful use politiqueras and that upsetting the politiquera system would undo a generational machine of politics in the region.

Nonsense, he says.
 
“Why would I want to risk my job just helping a friend? Politics didn’t enter into this,” says Guerra.
 
The county’s chief law enforcer offered his thoughts in a July interview at the LA Olla Mexican Restaurant two blocks from the courthouse, in the same neighborhood where he works and grew up selling tamales door to door. As constituents greet him, it’s clear Guerra is the home team.
 
He is blunt about his views of election law: He’s not sure the laws prohibiting certain activities, such as taking the ballot of a relative to the post office, should even be a crime. And it’s too hard to prosecute anyway.
 
And it becomes clear that when it comes to punishing people for what he views as minor election infractions, his heart just isn’t in it.
 
Guerra speaks of how some politiqueras assist disabled voters, and how taking a ballot to the post office for someone is common.
 
“If you check closely, it’s illegal for her to possess two votes,” he says. “Tell me about that. My question is, why is that illegal? I’m just saying there is some election stuff that doesn’t really help prevent illegal voting."
 
Guerra said voter fraud cases are problematic because they are often spurred by the election loser, and further complicated by elderly witnesses who may not be able “to testify accurately without contradictions when the case is prosecuted.”
 
Guerra never shared with the AG’s office his concerns about the difficulty of the cases, and he dropped them without any input from the AG, the AG’s office said in an e-mailed statement.
 
“Contrary to René Guerra's claims, election fraud is not ‘too difficult to prosecute,’” the attorney general’s office said. “In fact, this office has successfully prosecuted 32 Election Code violations.”
 
Israel Pacheco, the Ranger who investigated the case, defends Guerra.

“In my opinion, there was sufficient evidence to go forward,” says Pacheco, who retired a year ago after 16 years as a Ranger. “Taking it to court and winning it, though, are two different things. I have no beef with the DA’s office for what happened.”

DA’s opponent concerned


Alma Garza, who grew up in the area, says commandeering of the mail-in ballots is a standard practice used by judges, state representatives and mayors.


“You’ve got this older generation still here that doesn’t know how to read or write,” Garza says. “These politiqueras have a list of every single person.”


Like so many others, she refers back to the 2005 politiquera indictments as a pivotal moment in policing voter fraud in the county.


“It was a big deal,” she says.


Garza tried unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary to unseat Guerra, for whom she once worked as an assistant district attorney.


Now a criminal defense lawyer, Garza is certain her losses came as a result of voter fraud. In a three-candidate primary in 2006, she lost the overall vote 45 percent to 39 percent, and absentee balloting 39 percent to 15 percent. But in March, the vote spread was more consistent. She lost 52 percent to 36 percent and absentee voting by about the same margin.


She was concerned enough about voter fraud that she asked Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramon to not release the list of those voters eligible for or receiving mail-in ballots.


Ramon said she can only act in compliance with the law, which says the roster of recipients of mail-in ballots can be released the day after the election. She said there is no advance list of those eligible for mail-in balloting since the list also includes requests by voters who are going out of town during the election, she said.


Indicted politiqueras working for judge?
 
A woman named Alicia Molina, a common name in the Valley, was paid $475 by appellate court candidate Federico Hinjosa in 2006, about a year after a woman with the same name was indicted as part of the 2005 cases in Hidalgo County.
 
On Hinojosa’s finance report, Molina’s street address and town were listed as unknown, making it impossible to say for certain if the worker was the same Alicia Molina indicted on five counts of voter fraud. Hinojosa did not return several calls and e-mails.

An Elvira Rios, the name of one of the women whose case was dropped, was also paid $375 by Hinojosa, according to the same campaign finance report. Her home address was also listed as unknown.

Alma Garza is sure they are the same as those charged. But it’s hard to tell in a community of ever-changing phone numbers and addresses, not to mention tight-lipped officials.

“They never stopped working,” Garza says of the people who were indicted. “They knew nothing was going to come of those indictments.”

Hinojosa, an incumbent at the time, did not preside over the cases that Guerra’s office dismissed. But the payments raise the troubling specter of a judge paying for campaign help from persons under indictment for voter fraud, and it would not be the first time.

As for Guerra, he says he has never used a politiquera, although he is not averse to volunteer assistance, especially in the past couple of elections, when he faced competition. His campaign finance forms for 2010, the only ones available, do not list any paid get-out-the-vote workers.

“If you say you are going to work the mail-in ballot as a volunteer, I can’t stop you,” he says. “They say, ‘I wanna help you René.’ I say, ‘OK, thank you.”

Of the 10 indicted five years ago, “all of them will say they help me” in campaigning.

What about the appearance of impropriety? Is that a concern?

“No, because these folks have their list of supporters for local elections and what-have-you. They go work them.”

Guerra leaves the Olla, accepting the well wishes of his admirers as he gets in his Chevy Tahoe and heads to a civic meeting.

Steve Miller has written extensively on the problem of mail-in ballot fraud in South Texas. Find all his reports by searching VOTER FRAUD at www.texaswatchdog.org. Call 832-303-9420 or e-mail stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.
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