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Starr Co. ‘No Electioneering’ Mandate Conflicts with State Elections Law

2 years 3 months 1 week ago Tuesday, February 20 2018 Feb 20, 2018 February 20, 2018 9:02 PM February 20, 2018 in News

RIO GRANDE CITY – Voting in Starr County looked very different. County leaders established a new boundary around polling places. No electioneering is allowed inside. Not everyone agrees with the new rules.

It's now against Starr County's mandate to electioneer on property designated off-limits. The Secretary of State's Office has told CHANNEL 5 NEWS that law contradicts state law mandating the off-limit distance be only 100-feet from the doors. So far, it's a stalemate.

With an accordion file in hand, ready with blank sample ballots, constitution booklets and bumper stickers, Hilda Gonzalez, a candidate for the position of Democratic chair, passed her bundle out to a voter.

She's in the parking lot of the Starr County Courthouse, beyond the 100-foot marker delineated by a traffic cone inside the county's designated 'no electioneering' zone.

That distance between the traffic cone and the doors is protected by state law. The county's new set of rules protects the whole parking lot from electioneering.

What it indicates is that parking rules and parking areas are for parking. They're not for electioneering.

The Secretary of State's Office explained to CHANNEL 5 NEWS this resolution breaks away from the state's election code.

Sam Taylor, Communications Director for the Secretary of State's Office, said, "So, it says that they may enact reasonable regulations concerning the time, place and manner of electioneering. But a reasonable regulation is not an outright ban. So, it's very important to make that distinction as to what a reasonable regulation is."

Outside, Gonzalez helped an incumbent cover up a political sign on his truck. It was parked within the new boundary. The sheriff's department is enforcing the new rules. The resolution won't change in spite of the conflict.

However, Escobar points out, "Well, somebody would have to challenge the resolution, or challenge the laws or challenge the policies. Up to now, we don't have a lawsuit. So, nobody is challenging the policies."

Gonzalez left the parking lot after hearing others were asked to leave. For now, she's considering her next steps like filing a lawsuit.

"That's something that needs to be considered at this point and time. We're considering it," Gonzalez said.

Nothing has been filed yet.

The resolution also increased the penalties for breaking the electioneering laws. Trespassing could result in a Class B misdemeanor. Punishment could result in jail time and a fee up to $2,000.

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