Day 7 & 8
San Antonio attorney George Korbel, previously with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and with over 48 years’ experience as an election analyst, testified over two days on his suspicion of a conspiracy to commit election fraud in the city of Mission’s June 9 runoff election.
Co-counsel Martin Golando took the spotlight questioning Korbel on whether this could have been an “illegally orchestrated effort.” Korbel agreed for various reasons.
Korbel found it unusual that Armando “Doc” O’Caña lost in the May election, yet defeated a former mayor of 20 years, Norberto “Beto” Salinas, by 157 votes in June. Given his experience, he agreed with Salinas’ contention that the runoff results were likely tainted.
In the petition filed Salinas contends the results of the runoff, pointing to an unlikely scenario after he was three votes short from winning the May election: “Bizarrely it had a higher turnout than the main municipal election … a runoff election in the dire heat of Texas suddenly experiences earth-shattering turnout.”
Korbel cross-analyzed affidavits, interviews, and documents from the Hidalgo County Elections Administrator; however, Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa repeatedly objected to Korbel’s testimony being “based on speculation,” and calling him “unqualified to testify.”
Repeatedly, Judge Dorsey overruled his running objection. Dorsey further stated, “Since I’m the guy that’s going to determine, I’m going to certify him as an expert and I’ll see what his opinion is and see if I give it any bearing at all.”
During the course of the trial, seven witnesses testified they were bribed in a white van and were going around Mission picking people up during the runoff election.
Korbel analyzed the timestamps of witnesses who were illegally assisted inside this van and concluded at least 48 voters were bribed. According to the documents presented by the elections department Korbel highlighted the irregularity of those ballots being cast, “literally one after the other.” Based on the testimonies of witnesses bribed he said, “If you pay one. You pay all.”
Hinojosa then began to badger Korbel stating there weren’t 48 witnesses to bribery and demanded Korbel give the additional voters’ identities. “Back off from the witness!” Judge Dorsey scolded Hinojosa.
Korbel explained he wouldn’t expect for people to testify that they committed a crime. “I’m relying on the numbers on the document.”
During the runoff election, O’Caña received 393 mail-ballots, compared to Salinas’ 272 mail-ballots. Korbel asserted mail-ballot harvesting occurred.
He identified peculiarities on 322 mail-ballot carrier envelopes. “Of those 322, 19 had a person that endorsed the back [for assistance], that indicated a chain of custody. There were 303 that had no endorsements.”
“So, 303 were illegal ballots?” Judge Dorsey questioned.
Hinojosa immediately objected, asking if it was a statement or a question.
“No judge, there’s no way I can say that 303 are illegal ballots. What I’m saying is that we’ve looked at 27, and they have all of the same characteristics as the 303.”
Golando then asks which campaign benefited if there was an orchestrated effort. “O’Caña was more successful,” he replied.
Korbel then confidently stated that 27 were illegally harvested and 48 voters were bribed during the runoff election.
Korbel concluded, “Once something like this affects an election, you don’t know what the results are.”
Dorsey originally reserved noon on Thursday for arguments from Salinas, but extended the deadline to Friday afternoon, due to Hinojosa’s continuous objections.
The Tale of Three Marias
Towards the end of the day, two sisters testified the mail-ballot for their mother, Maria Tovias, was illegally harvested by Esmeralda Lara. Maria B. Tovias-Fuentes and Maria C. Tovias testified that Lara insisted on taking their mail-ballot, and kept calling to check when it arrived.
Tovias stated she felt uncomfortable giving her mail-ballot to Lara. She stated she thought to herself, “Why are you picking up mail-in ballots?” She continued that she didn’t know if her mother’s ballot was received, saying “I feel very strongly, if my 92-year-old mother is voting, and I insist on her voting, her vote should be heard. I don’t know what happened to that ballot, and it infuriates me that this happened.”
As Tovias was released from the stand, she addressed Judge Dorsey, “I hope you take into account every single word I said.”
Confident in his father’s case, Salinas’ defense rested on Thursday afternoon. He also highlighted that the two key co-conspirators, Veronica O’Caña and Guadalupe “Lupita” O’Caña had avoided being served with subpoenas, “You can’t benefit from their absence. And in fact, when you do that and … the court makes a finding that it’s intentional, the likelihood is that the court will proceed in a light most negative.”
Salinas stated there was enough evidence to suggest O’Caña’s campaign committed election fraud, therefore rendering the runoff election void, and requested a new election.
Hinojosa objected, stating Salinas didn’t meet the burden of proof that the 157 votes that won O’Caña the election were null. “They’re between 120 and 130 votes short,” he told The Monitor.
Hinojosa stated he had no witnesses for Friday. Closing arguments resume Friday morning at 9:30 am.
This is the third part in a four-part series covering the trial over the contested Mission Mayoral Election.