GOP dispute threatens election process
With the primary election five weeks away, the Bastrop County Elections Department is not sure it will be ready to serve voters due to a dispute within the Bastrop County Republican Party.
County elections administrator Bridgette Escobedo told commissioners last week she had not received the names of any elections workers or judges from the Republican Party chair, who is typically responsible for helping to organize the election.
“We are about 98 percent ready to go on the Democratic side. We just have a few loose ends we need to tie up,” Escobedo said. “As far as the Republican side, I am not sure. There has not been a lot of communication, so I don’t know where the Republican Party stands as we meet today.”
Primary elections differ from general elections in that it is the responsibility of the individual parties to organize, hire and train election workers. The parties, however, typically contract with the county’s Elections Department to administer the election and have done so since the department was created.
It is legal as per the Texas Election Code for parties to hold their own primaries without the help of the county. But it’s not the norm, Bastrop County Republican Party Secretary Doug Kelsay said.
“In the history of our county, I have never heard of anything other than the county administrating the elections,” he said. “It was never a contentious issue before. In this session, it has been a contentious issue.”
A source close to the situation but who is not authorized to speak for the party said its chair, Jeanne Raley, had made it clear she wanted the party to administer the election without the county’s help and would not sign a contract with the Elections Department. The party’s executive committee in response passed a resolution in September giving Kelsay the right to sign the contract with the county, instead.
The document was presented to Bastrop County commissioners last week, with Raley’s name scratched off and Kelsay’s signed in its place. Though the contract will allow the county to administer the election, it doesn’t give it the tools it needs to be ready for voters on Election Day on March 6.
The Republican Party chair is typically responsible for sending a list of election judges and workers to the elections department, so it can hire and train them prior to Election Day, which the Democratic Party has already done, Escobedo said.
“I have reached out to the Republican Party to ask for her list of workers, so I can provide extra training. I don’t know who those workers are going to be.”
Raley said by email Thursday she would have a full list of poll workers to the elections office in 10 days. As to why she would not sign the contract, she said it did not have a dollar amount specified in it, and it would have been fiscally irresponsible to approve services at an open-ended cost.
In an email sent Wednesday, the Bastrop County Young Republicans said Raley was going “rogue.”
Raley said the entire controversy is political. She is up for re-election this year and running in the March primary against Dianna Greenwood, a local precinct chair who sits on the party’s executive committee.
County Judge Paul Pape, who chairs the Commissioners Court and is up for re-election, called on Escobedo to use whatever resources she needs, including the county’s attorneys, to come up with a solution.
“Our main concern is that we have an open and honest election and that the ballots are well-protected and that the voters of this county have an opportunity to choose who they would like to represent them,” he said. “Find whatever resources you need to get this done and get it done right.”