Military Voters Challenged in Texas County Election Fight

By Larson, Ruth | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 24, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Military Voters Challenged in Texas County Election Fight


Larson, Ruth, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Air Force Maj. Paul Smith thought he was doing his civic duty in November when he voted absentee in his local elections back home in Del Rio, Texas.

To his astonishment, he received a court document last Saturday ordering him to fill out a 24-page questionnaire that asked about not only his eligibility to vote in the election, but also intimate details of his personal life.

The lengthy questionnaire is part of a lawsuit filed Dec. 19 by the taxpayer-funded Texas Rural Legal Aid (TRLA), challenging the rights of military members to vote by absentee ballot in Val Verde County, located on the Rio Grande, about 150 miles west of San Antonio.

The suit seeks to overturn Republican victories in the Val Verde County elections for sheriff and county commissioner - the first Republicans in those posts in more than a century.

The TRLA lawyers contend that Democratic candidates for the posts, both of whom are Hispanic, lost because of the influx of absentee ballots cast by members of the military.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, said: "This lawsuit is an outrage; that it is being pursued by public funding is unconscionable. The notion asserted by TRLA that a voter can be disqualified because he or she is serving in the military is a cynical affront to our constitution."

TRLA receives about 80 percent of its funding from the Legal Services Corp. Some 300 such groups receive taxpayer funding from the corporation, but are prohibited from engaging in any sort of political activity.

TRLA has since withdrawn from the case, after being fiercely criticized for engaging in prohibited political activities. However, its lead attorney, George Korbel, will continue to serve as an expert witness for the plaintiffs.

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery is expected to rule today on whether Republicans D'Wayne Jernigan and Murry Kachel can be sworn in as sheriff and commissioner. A restraining order has thus far prevented them from being sworn in.

Maj. Smith, who now is serving in another state, was one of the 800 military members who received the TRLA questionnaire, with orders to fill out and return a notarized copy of his answers in three days.

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