DOJ Investigation Finds County Election Faults

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Brazos County officials will be named in a lawsuit to be filed by the justice department. But the county won't have to go to court after reaching an agreement with the DOJ.

The allegations surround the county's lack of bilingual election workers during the March primaries.

This past Friday, Brazos County leaders first heard of a complaint or complaints filed with the justice department. DOJ would not elaborate on who the grievances came from or on what specific topics.

"They came in and investigated and found that we were lacking in some of the things we were supposed to provide the Hispanic population," said County Judge Randy Sims.

"We just could not get the workers at the polls that were required, so we will be putting together a group of citizens to help us do that," added County Clerk Karen McQueen.

As per an agreement crafted by DOJ, the county will create a committee that will meet monthly for the next year and quarterly after that, making all efforts to mobilize bilingual election workers. Each county commissioner and the county's judge, clerk and tax assessor-collector will appoint one person to sit on the committee. Sims and McQueen say local Hispanics will likely make up a large portion of the committee.

That agreement will have to be signed in less than two weeks by county officials. Commissioners will review the document and likely approve it in the coming days.

During the primaries, only about 16 bilingual election workers were at the polls, well below what's mandated. By rule, Brazos County will be required to have a certain number of bilingual officials for each precinct based on registered voters with Hispanic surnames.

For a precinct with between 100 and 249 registered voters with Hispanic surnames, one bilingual official will be required at that polling place. Two officials will be required for precincts with between 250 and 499 of those voters, and three will be required for precincts with 500 or more.

Right now for the county, that means finding 54 workers for the next election.

"This is going to cost the taxpayers money," Sims said. "We're going to have to hire some additional people. Who knows, we may have to go up on what we pay our election workers."

Currently, that pay is $7-an-hour, and the county is quick to note that it's already a chore to find any election worker, no matter what language they speak.

County officials are starting work on tests to determine if a person is eligible to work the polls in the required capacity. To qualify, they must be able to read, write and speak fluent Spanish.

The Justice Department also noted that Brazos County's website lacked election information in Spanish. The county's IT department has begun making the appropriate changes.

According to Judge Randy Sims, other Texas counties -- including Ector and Hale -- have faced similar fates.

"This is a good document," said Sims. "It's a good document by DOJ that we can follow, and we will follow it to the T."

Reports will have to be sent by the committee to DOJ each month with updates on their efforts.

Department officials were on the ground in Brazos County during the primaries. Representatives at the local Republican and Democratic parties said they had heard DOJ was looking into language issues at the polls.

"I'm just floored, but we will go forward," said McQueen. "That's what we're here for is to run a good election."

Though the county does not oversee city and school board elections, they will be sending their documentation to those sides for them to review.

In the primaries, it's somewhat of a joint effort between the county and the political parties. When asked for an opinion on why DOJ didn't go after them, Judge Sims said that the county is the first line of government.