Refugio candidates ineligible after voting in wrong party primary

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

March 26, 2014 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated March 26, 2014 at 10:27 p.m.

Two unopposed Democratic incumbents are ineligible for office in Refugio County after voting in the opposing party's primary.

With the offices for county treasurer and county commissioner, precinct 2, open, the Democratic party will need to appoint a nominee for the November ballot. Voters can also write in a candidate.

Rachael Garcia, Refugio County elections administrator, said an anonymous tipster brought the votes by the incumbents - Commissioner Stanley Drew Tuttle and Treasurer Elaine Henning - to her office's attention.

"It's definitely a hard lesson learned," she said.

According to the state election code, a person cannot be affiliated with two parties during the same election cycle. Voting in one party and being nominated in another counts as multiple affiliations.

"Somebody was watching," Garcia said. "Once I researched it, I found that yes, it was true. In all fairness to all local candidates on our ballot, I thought it was best to check all of our local candidates who were on the ballot."

Tuttle and Henning were the only two found to have voted in the wrong primary or been affiliated with two parties.

Because they won't be taking another term come Jan. 1, Tuttle is losing out on a $47,670 annual salary and Henning on a $52,065 salary.

Victoria County Elections Administrator George Matthews said he was not aware of any other instances in the area, but the scenario brings up the debate of whether local races should be partisan.

"You would think a party member, someone who has been the nominee or is the current nominee for a political party, would be aware of this or at least know they need to vote" in their party's primary, he said. "You would think people would have enough loyalty to the party."

In an Advocate story that published before the primary, some party officials said they think county-level races should remain partisan because the "D" or the "R" next to a name can help voters identify with candidates they may not be familiar with.

Others say choosing between two parties gets in the way of the issues and what a candidate really stands for.

Victoria County Republican Party Chairman Michael Cloud said primary elections can be beneficial on a local level.

Along with giving voters a chance to vet more candidates, the beliefs and practices parties stand for can help voters stay educated, he said.

Cloud called the Refugio election "unfortunate" on a personal level for the two candidates.

"If you're going to run for office ... if you care enough to run, it would be a good idea to vote for yourself," he said.

Refugio County Democratic Party Chairwoman Bernice Macias said she is accepting applications for the ballot nomination, which will be decided by an executive committee in June. It will be time-consuming but fair, Macias said.

She said the issue of crossing party lines is more common than it seems.

"It doesn't surprise me that it finally happened here," she said. "Candidates will file for a specific party, and then come time for the election, they don't want to vote for the other party members, and they carelessly vote on the opposite party that they filed for."

She said it "doesn't make sense."

"They don't even vote for themselves," Macias said.

Her best advice is to "keep it simple" and honor the rules of the election code.

"They would have been a sure win because they were unopposed," Macias said. "Because of their actions, they are no longer eligible."

Tuttle and Henning did not return multiple phone calls for comment by deadline Wednesday.



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