Rio Grande Valley city challenges state statute

Sometimes legal disputes involving Texas cities and counties jump around the map. The Hidalgo County city of McAllen has filed a lawsuit in Travis County over a state law passed in Austin to resolve a problem in Progreso (another Hidalgo County city). Pharr – also in Hidalgo – joined McAllen’s suit. Note: all are in the Rio Grande Valley.

McAllen is fighting a state law requiring it to give control of its local elections to Hidalgo County.

Just one percent

The 2009 law says that if a petition is signed by a number of registered voters equal to or exceeding one percent of votes cast in the most recent general election, the law is triggered and McAllen must hand over control of its next election (to be held in May) to Hidalgo County.

A news report said there were 1,907 votes in McAllen’s 2019 city election. One percent of that total is 19.07.

“That’s troubling,” said McAllen City Attorney Issac Tawil. “You’ve got nearly 70,000 voters in McAllen and only 20 have raised their hand.”

Senator Juan Hinojosa, who lives in McAllen and who wrote the bill, said the measure “was intended to help smaller cities that don’t have their own voting equipment, machines; that don’t have the experienced staff or trained staff.”

He said McAllen has “every right to challenge the statute,” adding that sometimes legislation passed in Austin is later “manipulated or misused by groups.”

Driving costs up

City officials say the election will cost more if McAllen is forced to contract the election to Hidalgo.

In addition, McAllen’s significant election investments will sit idle.

“The city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in acquiring very sophisticated voting equipment, in training our personnel on the use and operation of that equipment,” Tawil said.

The city’s lawsuit is two-pronged: asking the court for an injunction allowing it to conduct the May 1 election and it’s also challenging constitutionality of the state statute.