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Texas Looks to Electronic Eyes

November 3, 2000

EDINBURG, Texas (AP) _ A county with a reputation for tainted election practices will watch Tuesday’s election with an eagle-eyed view.

Hidalgo County plans to use surveillance cameras to videotape the ballot count in an attempt to ease tensions and restore trust after a March primary in which officials were accused of allowing sloppy balloting.

``We’re trying to instill some confidence in the community,″ county Judge Eloy Pulido said. ``People need to feel like their vote actually means something.″

Critics said voting in March was marred by unattended ballot boxes, stolen mail-in ballots, and screaming matches among polling officials.

Private investigator and defeated sheriff candidate A.A. ``Tony″ Pena sued incumbent Sheriff Henry Escalon after the primaries. Pena lost by 86 votes out of about 45,000 cast, and he contended that election-night trickery robbed him of the sheriff’s office.

``I heard right off the bat that there were a lot of things going on that shouldn’t have been,″ Pena said. ``The ballots were a jumbled-up mess. There was a lot of room for fraud.″

Pena ran out of money and dropped his lawsuit, but the uproar continued. Amid the criticism, the county hired new election officials and overhauled the vote-counting system.

Along with the rented cameras, three monitors from the secretary of state’s office will head to the south Texas county to watch the ballot board and polling centers.

The county bought new computers to speed up the count and outlawed photocopied ballots in the hope of preventing fraud and multiple voting.

``With this being such a huge election, we really want people to come out and vote,″ county election administrator Teresa Navarro said. ``We’re trying to restore integrity.″

Despite the county’s history of tainted elections, times are beginning to change, said Jerry Plinard, political science professor at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, the county seat.

``We’re still not going to have politics as pure as driven snow,″ he said. ``But at least we’re starting to do away with some of the excesses of corruption.″

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On the Net:

Hidalgo County: http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us

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