GOP dispute threat­ens elec­tion process

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Mary Hu­ber mhu­ber@ac­n­news­pa­pers.com

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.”

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