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Deputies on standby to maintain order
Following a summons last week by US President Donald Trump for volunteers to “watch closely” the election process on Tuesday, November 3, local authorities are reassuring their communities that interference, intimidation or threats to voters will not be tolerated and that guidelines laid down by the state will be followed to the letter.
The president made the remarks in a debate with Democratic Party contender Joe Biden, former vice president, and reiterated that he believes the election process may be subject to interference or fraud.
In both Frio and La Salle counties, officials have indicated they expect local elections to proceed without interference.
Frio County Judge Arnulfo Luna said on Tuesday that he reassures county residents they should feel no threat at the polls.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure that voters feel safe when coming to the ballot box,” the county judge said.
Judge Luna added that he has contacted the sheriff’s office and has made arrangements for deputies to be positioned near the polling stations both during the early voting period and on election day to maintain order.
“Our deputies will be on standby for any disturbance and to ensure voters’ safety,” the county judge said.
Carlos Segura, Frio County’s elections administrator said on Monday that he welcomes “all voters on election day” and does not expect any interference in the election process.
Segura noted, however, that he recently received what he described as “nuisance emails,” in which correspondents identifying themselves as Republican Party voters asked for details about the election process and indicated they wanted “to ensure every vote counts.”
“When I looked them up, I discovered that these people were not registered voters here,” Segura said. “I advised them to check with authorities in their own counties of residence.”
Segura says he and other county officials are particularly proud of the informative elections information website that has been put online for Frio County, adding that it has earned recognition from the League of Women Voters.
The county’s elections administrator said he believes there are several key differences between the 2020 elections and those of years past, not least of which is the fact that this year’s general election includes ballots for federal, state, regional and local governments; city councils; school boards; and entities in neighboring counties whose coverage area includes portions of Frio County.
“One of the issues we faced this year was the ballots coming late from the printer,” Segura said this week. “The supreme court ruled that we had to include Green Party candidates on the ballot, which was a decision that delayed us, but we were able to have them printed and we expect them this week.”
Segura said the city of Dilley has had its ballots ready for voting since May, when the election was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that the county will be able to use those ballots on election day without any difficulty.
“We are still waiting on ballots from Pearsall ISD, the city of Pearsall, and Devine ISD, some of which is in Frio County,” Segura said on Monday.
Frio County is reporting that as many as 950 requests have been received so far from voters wanting to cast their ballots by mail. This represents more than double the number usually asking to vote from home or who are outside the county during the election period. Segura said mailing of county government election ballots has already begun, but cautioned that voters should be aware of possible postal delays.
“I have no idea how long it will take for the mail,” Segura said. “It can take five days between one address and another in Pearsall alone, because the mail is transported to San Antonio, sorted, and transported back.
“I can see there’s a trend for the mail taking longer,” the elections administrator said. “Voters have to be aware of this. They can avoid delays in the postage by returning the mail-in ballots by hand, in person, but this can only be done by the voters themselves, not by delegates such as family members or friends. The voters will sign a logbook when they do that.”
Segura described Frio County’s preparations for election day as ensuring the public’s health and safety through social distancing protocols, continual cleaning of all desk items, pens, voting booths and all common areas, and “making all possible accommodations for special needs.”
“In our run-off elections in July, we had the second-largest turnout – by percentage of registered voters – in the state,” Segura said. “I believe there will be some increased interest in this year’s election, and we will not tolerate any interference in the election process or intimidation of voters exercising their lawful rights.”
In La Salle County, poll watchers representing some of the candidates on the ballot are able to observe the voting process, keep a running tally of how many voters have cast ballots, and whether correct procedures were followed in the event that any voter needed assistance.
La Salle County Judge Joel Rodriguez describes poll watchers as vital to a fair election process but noted that all those who are registered as poll watchers are selected by the candidates and do not include “walk-in volunteers.”
“The distance from the building that all supporters or campaigners must keep is a hundred feet,” the county judge said, reiterating the law that keeps candidates from pressuring voters at the polling station door or at the ballot box itself. “In the event of any untoward activity or any violation, we will not hesitate to call the sheriff’s office.”
The judge said that he keeps his own distance from the polling booths and election headquarters on election day each year, regardless of whether he is a candidate, to avoid generating any suspicion among community members that he is engaging in election interference.
“We hold our elections sacred in South Texas, and we hold firm to our rights to free and fair elections, and we will defend those rights,” the county judge said. “Each poll watcher represents a candidate. You can’t take that away. They have been selected, are listed on an affidavit, and are trained in how to conduct themselves.
“We cannot and will not open our election places to persons who feel they have a right to get closer, to question the process,” Judge Rodriguez said this week. “Unless you have business in there, they’re not going to let you in.”
The county judge described poll watchers’ duties as monitoring the actions of election staff and judges, and observing the tally of mail-in ballots, including possible rejection of those deemed ineligible or damaged.
“If you do go back to court [with a challenged election result], poll watchers will tell you if anything unusual occurred,” Rodriguez said. “It’s important to have good poll watchers in there. It keeps the election clean.”