A Texas jury acquitted a former mayor on 12 counts of election fraud in connection with what prosecutors said was a ballot harvesting ring.
After six hours of deliberation Thursday, a Hidalgo County jury acquitted former Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina, The Associated Press reported.
Molina was found not guilty of one count of organized fraud as well as 11 counts of illegal voting, all stemming from his 2017 election victory.
The verdict came three years after Texas Rangers arrested Molina in April 2019, along with 18 others, on charges of being part of a voter fraud conspiracy.
State prosecutors had alleged that Molina and his inner circle tried to convince voters—some outside Edinburg’s jurisdiction—to change their addresses to places where they didn’t live, including an apartment complex owned by Molina.
Two other related trials are still pending. Molina’s wife, Dalia, and former business partner Julio Carranza await trial on similar charges. Both pleaded not guilty.
Molina testified in his own defense.
His lawyers argued that the former mayor didn’t intend to violate election laws. They provided a “mistake of law defense,” contending that Molina relied on “reasonable authorities” in telling voters they could change their address to participate in Edinburg elections, The Monitor newspaper, based in neighboring McAllen, Texas, reported.
Edinburg, located in the Rio Grande Valley, has a population of about 90,000. Of about 8,000 votes cast in the mayoral election in 2017, Molina, then a City Council member, defeated 14-year incumbent Mayor Richard Garcia with a margin of 1,240 votes.
Molina’s victory margin was larger than the known amount of fraudulent votes, so it’s highly unlikely that ineligible voters altered the result of the election.
During close arguments, The Monitor reported, state prosecutor Michael Garza asked jurors: “Does it make sense to you that people who live in McAllen can vote in Edinburg when they don’t live there? Does it make sense to you that people from Russia can come vote in this country simply because they like the candidate?”
But Molina’s defense lawyer argued, “If you review and rely on government sources, and you come to the wrong conclusion … then ultimately the jury must find not guilty.” Texas has had numerous cases of voter fraud in the past. In 2017, the state enacted a ban on ballot harvesting, the controversial practice in which political operatives collect absentee ballots from voters. In 2021, Texas further fortified laws to restrict voter fraud.