BROWNSVILLE — A defeated Cameron County justice of the peace candidate has filed a lawsuit alleging her opponent’s power-broker family used its network of politiqueras, or political workers, to steal votes from the feeble.
Yolanda Teran Begum lost Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff to Erin Hernandez Garcia by 152 votes.
The complaint, filed Thursday in state district court blames the loss on illegal mail-in votes, manipulation of the elderly and infirm and the offering of meals and gift cards for votes.
“We’re not trying to throw out legitimate votes on technicalities, but so many witnesses have come forward with evidence of illegal conduct that we really have to question whether the mail-in vote and the early vote numbers actually represents the will of the voters,” Begum’s attorney Michael Cowen said Friday.
Hernandez Garcia, a Brownsville attorney, did not immediately return a call for comment.
The lawsuit is the second accusing her family of election fraud in as many years.
“The Hernandez family, aided by their network of politiqueras, have stolen two consecutive Democratic primary runoff elections in Cameron County,” the complaint filed Thursday states, referencing the 2010 runoff for county commissioner between Ernie Hernandez Jr. and Ruben Pena.
Hernandez is the father of Hernandez Garcia. Pena is co-counsel in Begum’s current lawsuit.
Following the 2010 trial, visiting state District Judge Rudy Delgado ruled there were code violations surrounding the mail-in votes but not enough of them were proven to change the outcome.
The 13th Court of Appeals dismissed the case as moot due to lack of time before the general election.
“The bottom line is they got beat; we beat them fair and square,” Commissioner Hernandez said Friday.
The justice of the peace runoff had its nasty moments, including name calling at polling places and at least one call to Brownsville police to report disturbances.
Cameron County Elections Administrator Roger Ortiz requested an inspector from the Texas secretary of state’s office, reportedly citing concerns with the race.
But by then, the alleged abuses already had taken place, said Mary Helen Flores, founder of Citizens Against Voter Abuse (CAVA), which has been fighting to expose fraud in Cameron County elections.
She said her group has been taking statements that will be shared with Begum’s legal team.
“The evidence is being collected from all resources,” she said. “People who were affected by the illegal tactics when they went to vote called different people to complain. I was one of the people who were called. Yolanda Begum’s campaign people were called. Some of the news bloggers were called.”
“Last time we did this election contest against this family in 2010, it focused on mail-in ballot fraud,” she said. “This time that wasn’t the only approach they used. … The busing of the elderly and the mentally incapacitated to the polls was very aggressive, and we got reports from several of those people stating that they were taken against their will; they were held in the vans against their will.”
Esequiel “Zeke” Silva filed a police report after a confrontation at a nursing home where he said he went to pick up his father to vote. He told officers he was threatened by Norma Hernandez, Hernandez Garcia’s mother, and was blocked from getting his dad.
“They didn’t want him to get into my SUV,” he said. “He’s 78, he’s got bad knees, so he’s got to walk with a cane, but he’s got his five senses, so he knows better. But there are elderly people that are naïve, ignorant of dirty politics.”
Ernie Hernandez called Silva a “bold-faced liar,” and said it was Silva who was harassing his wife. He denied that Hernandez Garcia’s camp provided meals or gifts or coerced voters.
“They’re claiming in the past, ‘Well, you should not vote by mail,’ and now they’re saying, ‘Well, you can’t take them in the vans, either,’” Hernandez said. “I don’t understand what they’re trying to do but possibly disenfranchise all these elderly from being given the opportunity to go and vote.”
Assisted voting came into question in another Rio Grande Valley election, when the large percentage of assisted voters in the city of Hidalgo election prompted losing candidates to file a lawsuit. State District Judge Manuel Bañales ruled the assistance was valid.
Cowen suggested the alleged fraud went beyond the JP election.
“No one who won the mail-in also won the day of” the election, he said of county Democratic primaries involving Brownsville voters, “and that’s just statistically impossible.”
Loser alleges vote theft in Cameron JP race
August 4, 2012
San Antonio Express-News