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Cuellar takes the lead

Some 300 new ballots have been found in Zapata County, and they have combined to give Henry Cuellar a slim lead in his primary race against Rep. Ciro Rodriguez.

More than 300 votes were discovered during a Zapata County recount in the District 28 congressional battle, giving Laredo’s Henry Cuellar a slight lead over U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez.

The votes apparently came from one of the two early vote boxes, according to officials with the Zapata County Elections Department.

It was unclear this afternoon how large Cuellar’s lead is.

The discovery of the missing votes is highly suspicious, according to Rodriguez.

“There’s no doubt that there’s some fraud going on, some illegal activities,” he said today.

Rodriguez is planning to file a lawsuit contesting the recount results, said his Austin-based attorney Buck Wood.

“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and I’ve never seen 300 or so ballots appear suddenly,” said Wood, a former elections director for the Texas secretary of state’s office.“To tell you that I’m suspicious and baffled is an understatement.”

Cuellar officials were not immediately available to comment today.Although Cuellar lives in Webb County, his mother lives in Zapata County.

The recount, which began Friday in Atascosa and Wilson counties, came after a hotly contested race in the battle for the seat, which represents 11 counties stretching from Hays in the north to Zapata in the south. Rodriguez, who led at the beginning of the recount by 145 votes, had increased his margin by five votes after recounts in five of the district’s 11 counties.

Officials were conducting a recount in Webb County this afternoon and were scheduled to proceed with Bexar County and Hays County on Wednesday.

Well, isn’t that special? I wonder if Cuellar has erected an altar to LBJ in his back yard. That’s as good an explanation of the newly-discovered ballots as anything I can think of.

This AP report gives Cuellar a 30-vote lead, but the Quorum Report puts it at a 20-vote margin, and makes a slight correction to the E-N story:

Challenger Henry Cuellar has picked up a net gain of 170 votes in Zapata County following this morning’s recount, giving him a lead of 30 votes over incumbent Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-San Antonio) in the Congressional District 28 Democratic primary.

You may recall that Zapata County’s optical scanner machine was programmed wrongly and local high school students had to hand-count the vote all through election night.

The Zapata County vote was completed [just after noon]. The recount provided 304 new votes – not ballots – were found, with 237 going to Cuellar and 67 going to Rodriguez.

The recount in Webb County, Cuellar’s base, starts at 2 p.m. today.

According to the AP story, Bexar County (San Antonio) and Hays County (San Marcos) recount on Wednesday, while Guadaloupe (Seguin) and Comal (New Braunfels) do their thing on Thursday. If Rodriguez is going to regain ground, it’ll be in those counties. We should have an answer by then, though QR also reports that the Rodriguez camp is ready to file a lawsuit to block the results. So who knows? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: And it just gets weirder:

In a dramatic turnaround certain to add to the lore of South Texas politics, Laredo lawyer Henry Cuellar first took a 197-vote lead over U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez after recounts in Webb and Zapata counties Tuesday.

Then, just a few hours later, state Democratic Party officials said the final recount tally in Webb County showed 115 more votes than there were ballots cast. A re-recount won’t be done until Sunday, officials said.

Meanwhile, Bexar and Hays will have their recounts today, and Comal and Guadalupe will conduct theirs Thursday.

[…]

“There will be a shadow over the election almost no matter which one comes ahead now,” said Jerry Polinard, a political scientist at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.

It was unclear late Tuesday what the problem was in Webb, but in Zapata, a tabulation error apparently missed 304 early votes, said Zapata Democratic Party Chairman Teo Garza.

Contrary to rumors that new ballots were discovered, Garza stressed that the 304 votes had been counted, but weren’t properly recorded.

“There’s no funny business going on,” said Garza, who’s running his first election as party chairman.

If you say so. I’d like to know more about that 115-vote discrepancy before I sign off on that one.

I wasn’t the only one thinking of Landslide Lyndon when hearing about this:

The mother of all South Texas corruption stories is the legend of Box 13, a cache of 202 votes found after the 1948 primary with similar handwriting in the same color ink

The votes, which came out of Jim Wells County, put LBJ narrowly over the top and earned him the tongue-in-cheek name “Landslide Lyndon.”

But some cautioned against drawing too close a comparison between the ghosts of elections past and the situation in Zapata County.

Short of any clear evidence of corruption, the shift in votes in Zapata is “tiddlywinks” compared to the blatant skullduggery involving Box 13, said Bob Bezdek, a political scientist at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

“This is a different era,” said Bezdek, who has studied the fabled election. “Box 13 was a blatant attempt to get votes after the election was over. This appears to be minor stuff.”

Everything may be on the up and up, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t about to get very messy. Let’s see what happens in Bexar and neighboring counties, but be ready for a lawsuit one way or another when it’s all done.

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