Starr Co. to divide election precincts following election code violation

Following notification that two of Starr County’s election precincts exceeded the 5,000 voter limit set by state law, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said the county would be splitting up the precincts to be in compliance.

The two election precincts — Precinct 6 in Roma and Precinct 10 in La Rosita — each have more than 5,000 registered voters, Vera acknowledged, prompting action from the county.

“We’re going to split both Precinct 10 and Precinct 6 into two other precincts so that we can be in line with what’s required,” Vera said.

The move comes after an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) wrote to Vera and the director of the elections department last week, reminding them that the county was in violation of the Texas Election Code.

Sec. 42.006 of the Texas Election Code requires that a county election precinct must have at least 100 but not more than 5,000 voters.

Precinct 6 has about 7,406 non-suspense, registered voters while Precinct 10 has about 6,850, wrote Zachary Dolling, the attorney with TCRP who added the organization had already contacted the county about the problem on Feb. 6.

“The County therefore violated Texas law by failing to split Precincts 6 and 10 and consequently assigning more than 5,000 registered voters to a single polling place in each of these precincts,” Dolling wrote.

“These rules are designed to make sure that county resources are distributed equitably and that voters in some precincts are not required to wait in significantly longer lines than voters in other precincts,” Dolling continued, “and they are particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, where failure to comply may jeopardize the health and safety of in-person voters.”

Vera said Monday he had spoken to the county commissioners about the issue previously and initially planned to await the results of the U.S. Census.

But after speaking to the director of county elections department, John Rodriguez, he realized the county commissioners did not have to wait for those numbers before taking action.

Vera said Rodriguez will now get in touch with the Texas Secretary of State’s office to find out what is required to divide up the precincts

“We should have that, hopefully, by the morning and then I guess at our next commissioners court meeting I’ll go ahead and present (it),” Vera said.

But creating two new precincts, each with its own polling site that is equipped with voting machines and is appropriately staffed, is sure to be expensive.

Vera said they also will look at current population numbers and find out if there is a well-recognized boundary, such as a road, by which people can easily identify which precinct they belong to.

“There’s things that we need to do but I don’t think it’s a major obstacle,” Vera added. “I think we can get that done pretty quick.”