Miller's relative counted ballots in District 73 race, voters demand investigation

Link to article here. Notice the contradictions just among the 3 stories below. Gillespie County Republican Party Chairwoman Pauline Cusack admits to speaking with Representative Nathan Macias’ former opponent Carter Casteel in one account, then says she hasn’t spoken to her since 2006 in another. It’s fair to say, every fact the pollwatchers alleged (which was the basis of our concerns) has been confirmed by the independent news sources below, despite these officials’ best effort at denying any wrongdoing.

The most OUTRAGEOUS admission other than the fact that Doug Miller’s relative counted ballots (can’t get much worse than that) is that these election officials allowed any Tom, Dick, and Harry to “volunteer” to count ballots. That’s got to be against the law! Don’t election workers have to be sworn in and sign statements of impartiality? This election stinks to high heaven!


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Photo by Miranda Laine
Terri Hall, of the San Antonio Toll Party, leads a press conference calling on the Secretary of State’s office to investigate alleged election fraud in the District 73 race.

Macias backer demanding investigation
By Mitzie Stelte
March 8, 2008

Supporters of State Rep. Nathan Macias, R- Bulverde, are demanding that the Texas Secretary of State’s office investigate alleged election fraud in Gillespie County involving the District 73 race.

In Tuesday’s primary, challenger Doug Miller unseated Macias by a scant 38 votes; Macias said Wednesday that he plans to call for a recount.

The heated race came down to Gillespie County, which did not complete its vote count until 4 a.m., Wednesday because emergency paper ballots issued on election day had to be counted by hand.

Spring Branch resident Terri Hall, director of the San Antonio Toll Party, a group that opposes expansion of toll roads and supports Macias, held a press conference Friday morning in New Braunfels alleging that family members of Miller were involved in the ballot counting in Gillespie County (see accompanying story). Hall also said that Gillespie Republican Chairperson Pauline Cusack, whom she claims openly opposed Macias, was on the phone repeatedly with former State Rep. Carter Casteel, whom Macias narrowly beat to win the District 73 nomination in the 2006 Republican primary.

Hall, flanked by about 25 Macias supporters, claimed that the counting team in Gillespie took more than four hours to hand-count 160 ballots, which changed the outcome of the election from a 58-vote win for Macias to a 38-vote win for Miller. According to Gillespie County election reports, the Republican vote in Precinct 5, which includes the west Gillespie community of Harper, was 306 votes — 201 for Miller and 105 for Macias.

Dist. 73 includes Comal, Gillespie, Kendall and Bandera counties. Gillespie is the only county that Miller carried.

Hall, who watched result numbers come in at Macias’ election night headquarters in Bulverde, said she and other supporters don’t know first-hand what went on in Gillespie County, but she had heard several reports of what sounded like voter irregularities.

“At a minimum, in this election, there were voter irregularities,” said Hall. “At worst, dare we say, voter fraud.”

But according to Gillespie County Clerk Mary Lynn Rusche, everything was done under the code of the Secretary of State’s office.

Rusche said it is true that Miller’s sister-in-law, Denise Mund, was at one point involved in ballot counting. However, as soon as her identity was realized, the counting stopped and she was asked to leave, said Rusche.

Election administration staff then stepped in and started the count over from the beginning, and the results ended up being exactly the same, said Rusche.

Miller’s brother-in-law, Jeff Mund, was also at the county courthouse, but according to Mund, he was there to wait for results and was never part of the ballot-counting process.

Craig Murphy, Miller’s political consultant, declined to comment on the happenings in Gillespie County during the ballot counting because he said that it is all second-hand information.

But Murphy did say that the Miller campaign is absolutely confident that the ballots were counted correctly.

“It was done fairly,” added Murphy. “That’s all that really matters.”

Cater Casteel denied that she contacted Gillespie Republican Chairman Pauline Cusack, saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s ridiculous.”

Casteel said that she called people in Kendall and Gillespie County who were there listening for results, but was never on the phone with Cusack.

“I’m sorry they’re grasping for straws,” added Casteel. “But for crying out loud, don’t make stuff up.”

Cusack denied the rumors that she openly opposed Macias.

“I did not take sides in this battle at all,” said Cusack. “I did not endorse anyone; I deliberately didn’t.”

Hall also made accusations that Comal County Commissioner Jan Kennady was on the phone with Cusack repeatedly Tuesday night during the ballot counting and said that it sounded unethical.

While Kennady does not deny having spoken to Cusack on the phone, she said that she did not receive any information that was not public record at the time.

“He’s my representative,” said Kennady. “I’m a public official and I’m interested in all races.”

Kennady also said that she and Cusack had been friends for 25 years, and Cusack did call her after the vote was started over because of Mund’s involvement because Cusack was upset, but again, nothing was ever divulged that wasn’t public record.

In response to the issue of the time it took to count the ballots, Rusche said that ballot counting was delayed for several reasons.

Because of the high voter turnout, many of the precincts ran out of the type of paper that ballot machines will accept and they ended up having to use plain Xerox paper for ballots. Rusche said there were between 300 and 400 paper ballots. Also, Precinct 5, the last one to be counted, did not get their votes to the courthouse until hours after the polls closed at 7 p.m.

Precinct 5 had a very long ballot, added Rusche. The counters had to go through them column by column, race by race.

Secretary of State spokesman Scott Haywood said that his agency generally reviews reports from citizens regarding allegations or complaints about voter irregularities, and then decides whether to send them to the attorney general for an investigation.

Haywood said that the agency received numerous complaints regarding the District 73 Republican race Friday morning and was reviewing them.

Macias’ campaign director, Adam Bell, declined several requests for comment Friday.


Link to article here.

Candidate’s sister-in-law helped count votes
By Mitzie Stelte
March 8, 2008

Gillespie County Clerk Mary Lynn Rusche confirmed Friday that a relative of District 73 candidate Doug Miller was counting ballots for a short time Tuesday night.

But Rusche said that as soon as election officials realized that Miller’s sister-in-law, Denise Mund, was among the counters, she was asked to leave and the count was started over from the beginning.

Gillespie County already had fallen behind in reporting precinct numbers after having to issue emergency paper ballots which had to be hand-counted. One precinct didn’t turn in its ballots until hours after the polls had closed. The county didn’t finalize its totals until 4 a.m.

As Tuesday night stretched into Wednesday morning, election officials began running low on volunteers willing to stay and count ballots, said Gillespie County Republican Chairperson Pauline Cusack. When it came time to count the last precinct’s ballots, at around 11 p.m., all the volunteer counters who had been at the courthouse had left.

“I was pleading for volunteers,” said Cusack.

Then two people she knew volunteered to help, followed by another woman Cusack didn’t know, who very meekly volunteered.

“I didn’t know anyone at the courthouse was a relative,” said Cusack. “No one introduced themselves to me.”

About an hour and fifteen minutes into the counting, Cusack said a deputy clerk came in and handed her the phone with someone on the other end who was very upset that a Miller relative was helping with the count.

“That was the first time I knew about this,” said Cusack. “It was innocent.”

The count was stopped, and new counters made up of election administration staff started the count over from the beginning, said Rusche. And all tabulations of all candidates were exactly the same on the second count.

The tabulations were done professionally and everything was done up to code of the Secretary of State, said Rusche.

Denise Mund could not be reached for comment Friday.


Link to article here.

Toll Party cries foul in GOP’s Dist. 73
By Roger Croteau

NEW BRAUNFELS — The San Antonio Toll Party is calling for an investigation into what it calls voting irregularities in the Texas House District 73 Republican primary in Gillespie County, where the final box swung the victory from incumbent Rep. Nathan Macias to challenger Doug Miller.

But party and election officials said they are confident the votes were counted accurately.

Macias was ahead by 58 votes until the final box, Precinct 5 in Gillespie County, was counted in the early morning hours Wednesday. Miller won the box by 96 votes — 201 to 105 — and the entire contest by 38 votes.

Terri Hall, the Toll Party director, said Miller’s relatives helped count emergency paper ballots used in that precinct when it ran out of regular ballots. She said the GOP county chairwoman, Pauline Cusack, repeatedly spoke on the phone with Carter Casteel, who held the District 73 seat until Macias beat her in a heated race in the 2006 GOP primary.

Finally, Hall said it suspiciously took hours for that final box of votes to arrive at the Gillespie County Courthouse and then it took four hours to count its ballots.

“We were getting direct word on the ground from Nathan Macias’ poll watchers,” Hall said. “I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ It was so blatant. How can it be a legitimate election with all this going on?”

Hall said the Toll Party is especially concerned because Macias is “a stalwart hero on the issue of toll roads.”

Cusack said she did not speak with Casteel on the telephone at all that night, and has not spoken with her since Casteel lost in 2006. It may have taken a while for the Precinct 5 box to get to the courthouse, but there was no evidence the box was tampered with, nor did it take an unusually long time to count, she said.

Cusack said one of Miller’s family members was involved in the hand count of the emergency paper ballots, but the woman volunteered to help “innocently,” and once it was called to Cusack’s attention, the vote count was halted. She got new volunteers and they started the count over again from scratch.

“I was so upset being accused of doing something wrong, I was almost in tears,” Cusack said.

The precinct is in the Harper area of Gillespie County, where Miller owns a small ranch. Miller won 13 of the 14 boxes in Gillespie County, with the Harper box having the largest margin.

“You would expect his neighbors to support him,” said Miller campaign spokesman Craig Murphy. “This is basically just sour grapes. It’s a little silly and a little sad.”

Gillespie County Clerk Mary Rusche said the turnout in the Harper area was much larger than usual and the precinct ran out of ballots. She made copies of the ballots for voters to use, and those 163 “emergency” ballots were not on the same heavy paper stock and could not be counted by optical scanner with the others. They had to be counted by hand, a process overseen by Republican Party officials.

Cusack said she was “pleading” for volunteers in the courthouse to help with the count.

“This woman volunteered,” she said. “I didn’t even know her name and I did not ask anyone who they support. She was not screaming to get in front and exclude someone else. Let’s not pummel her. She was innocently trying to help out.”

Cusack said she does not know what the relationship is between the woman and Miller. When she got a call from the Macias campaign complaining about her, 90 minutes into the process, the count was restarted with new volunteers, Cusack said.

Hall said she plans to ask the Texas Secretary of State’s office to investigate the Gillespie vote count, with her complaints to be lodged personally, as a voter, and on behalf of the Toll Party.

Scott Haywood, a spokesman for the office, said it would review the complaints and decide whether they warrant being forwarded to the Attorney General’s office for further review.