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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Border Town’s Voter Rolls Come Under Fire

McALLEN, Texas (CN) - Starr County, Texas, on the Mexican border, has 3,000 more people on its voting rolls than it has citizens of voting age, a Virginia-based watchdog group claims in court.

The American Civil Rights Union sued Starr County Voter Registrar Rafael R. Montalvo on March 4 in Federal Court.

The Arlington, Va.-based ACRU was founded in 1998 as a conservative alternative to the American Civil Liberties Union, which it calls the "devil's law firm" on its website.

The ACRU supports voter ID laws, religious liberty, gun rights and what it calls a strict reading of the Constitution."The ACRU believes that the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, is the greatest legal document ever written by man," its website states.

This is the fourth federal lawsuit the ACRU has filed since January 2014, seeking to force counties to purge their voter rolls, according to Courthouse News Service's database.

It reached settlements with two other South Texas border counties, Terrell and Zavala, according to a statement announcing its latest lawsuit. It also sued a Mississippi county to make it purge its voter rolls in July 2015.

Starr County, pop. 60,000, is 95 percent Hispanic, according to U.S. Census data. Southeast of Laredo and northwest of McAllen, the county seat is Rio Grande City.

The ACRU claims there were more registered voters than people of voting age in Starr County in 2010, 2012 and the pattern has persisted.

"According to the Texas Secretary of State's Office, in 2014 Starr County had 30,198 registered voters despite having a citizen voting age population of only 27,975, according to the U.S. Census Bureau," the lawsuit states.

The ACRU says it sent Montalvo a letter about this in December.

"A representative of the plaintiff traveled to Starr County in January 2016 and met with the defendant to discuss areas of concern, potential remedial efforts and requested current registration numbers," the lawsuit states.

The ACRU, a nonprofit, says Montalvo did not respond to its overtures so it was forced to sue.

Montalvo tells it differently.

He blames the Census Bureau for the discrepancy in the county's voter data. He said Starr County has numerous colonias, small settlements often without paved roads or utilities, and that Census workers who were afraid to visit them incorrectly estimated how many people live there.

Montalvo told Courthouse News that he prepared a packet with all the records the ACRU requested and its representative left them on his desk and flew back to Virginia.

If the ACRU actually wanted to improve the county's voter rolls it would have worked with him rather than suing him, Montalvo said in an interview.

The ACRU seeks an injunction to stop Starr County from using rolls with ineligible voters for the November 2016 elections, and ordering Montalvo to produce the records he says the group left on his desk.

The ACRU is represented by Eric Wiesehan in McAllen.

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