Former Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas is challenging the outcome of the city’s June 9 mayoral runoff election, alleging voter fraud is responsible for his loss to Armando “Doc” O’Caña.

Salinas filed a lawsuit last week in a Hidalgo County district court contesting the results of the runoff. The suit claims evidence of a “systematic and flagrant scheme to cast illegal votes to elect Mayor Ocana [sic]” that included bribing voters, illegally harvesting mail-in ballots, and registering non-residents to vote in the Mission runoff.

Salinas says dozens of voters have come forward since the runoff election and said they were paid to vote, or they are listed as having voted but hadn’t requested or received a mail-in ballot.

In the May 5 mayoral election, incumbent Salinas finished first but was three votes short of a majority. O’Caña finished second. In what Salinas calls a “stunning reversal of political fortune,” June’s runoff results showed O’Caña winning by 157 votes, 3,475 to 3,318 — a 2.3-percent margin.

Salinas’ contest alleges more than 158 illegal votes were cast for O’Caña, “including voters who were allowed to vote despite not being residents of Mission, Texas.” More than one hundred voters who were previously registered in other cities and counties “switched their registrations” in order to vote in the Mission runoff election:

“At least 121 voters total recently registered to vote in Mission, who are not residents of Mission, and fraudulently registered to vote in this election. Those registrants voted for candidate Ocana. In total, at least 158 voters registered fraudulently, reside outside of Mission, or were not legally registered to vote in Mission. These votes are illegal votes and were illegally accepted. These voters voted for candidate Ocana.”

The petition names several “examples of non-resident voters who voted” in the runoff election, including O’Caña himself and several voters related to O’Caña or his campaign.

Salinas also claims O’Caña campaign workers illegally harvested mail-in ballots and “inappropriately assisted” mail-ballot voters. The complaint states “at least 75 and probably many more mail-in ballots were inappropriately assisted or illegally in the possession of O’Caña campaign operatives.” Salinas names Esmeralda Lara, Veronica O’Caña, Elizabeth Hernandez, and Esmeralda Perez among the campaign workers accused of wrongdoing.

The complaint also alleges mail-in ballots were illegally accepted. In some cases, signatures on carrier envelopes did not match the ballot applications. In others, the voters were not entitled to vote by mail because they were not disabled, 65 or older, or otherwise qualified under state law.

In addition, Salinas’ petition identifies more than 20 examples of voters who say they were bribed with cash payments of $10 to $40, or “something of value,” to vote for O’Caña. Salinas alleges at least 165 voters were bribed by O’Caña campaign workers.

O’Caña told local media he wasn’t aware of any illegal activity during the campaign and didn’t pay anyone to vote.

Similar charges are pending in other Hidalgo County voter fraud cases. Five suspects are charged with illegally voting and/or registering to vote in the City of Edinburg’s 2017 mayoral election, despite not living in the city at the time. Three campaign workers are accused of illegally assisting elderly and disabled voters in the City of Hidalgo’s 2016 runoff election and face a total of 18 felony and misdemeanor charges for their part in the alleged voter fraud scheme.

“These cases highlight the unfortunate widespread abuse of elder and disabled voters in our state,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said.

Salinas is asking the court to declare him the winner of the Mission mayoral runoff election or, if the true outcome cannot be determined, to declare the runoff results void and order a new election.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.