Democratic runoff loser claims voter fraud in race for Joe Barton's congressional seat

Democrats Ruby Woolridge and Jana Lynne Sanchez
Democrats Ruby Woolridge and Jana Lynne Sanchez Star-Telegram archives

Democrat Ruby Woolridge has filed a lawsuit challenging her 717-vote primary runoff loss for the 6th Congressional District to Jana Lynne Sanchez.

In the lawsuit, Woolridge claims that Sanchez "knowingly filed petitions with fraudulent signatures" in order to secure a spot on the March primary ballot.

Sanchez called the lawsuit "frivolous."

"Unwarranted accusations cannot undo months of hard work spent collecting qualifying signatures on voters' doorsteps and at public events, cross-referencing names and addresses with databases and eliminating any that raised questions," said Sanchez, a public relations specialist. "The voters clearly chose us in the primary."

Neither Woolridge, a longtime community activist, nor her attorney James Polk could be reached immediately for comment Monday afternoon.

This is the latest claim of voter fraud locally. Earlier this year, a Republican justice of the peace pleaded guilty to tampering with a government record for falsifying signatures to get on the primary ballot and, before that, two women were sentenced to years in prison for illegally voting.

This lawsuit comes as thousands of Democrats prepare to arrive in Fort Worth for their party's convention, a time geared to unify the party and get ready for the November general election.

"This is just frivolous and not really what Democrats need at this point," Sanchez said. "We need to be focused on the Republican opponent, not fighting a lost battle over ballot signatures."

This district is represented by U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, who came under fire last year for a nude photo shared online and private messages with sexual overtones with a female constituent. He announced in November that he would not seek another term in office.

Legal challenge

At stake in this race is a two-year term that pays $174,000 a year representing a district that includes part of east and southwest Fort Worth, most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties.

Sanchez won the May 22 Democratic primary runoff election against Woolridge with 53.1 percent of the vote. Tarrant County Tax Assessor Collector Ron Wright won the Republican Party's nomination in the May 22 runoff and will face Sanchez in the general election.

In the lawsuit, Woolridge claims that Sanchez "knowingly concealed the fraudulent signatures from the Democratic local authorities" and that the volunteer circulators signed "the forged petitions before a notary public under duress."

Woolridge said she "only discovered the fraudulent conduct after the initial primary election was held for the Congressional seat for District 6," according to the lawsuit. And she claims some people couldn't vote in the primary election because someone else had already voted in their name through mail-in ballots.

She asks, in the lawsuit, for a special election or second runoff election to be held without Sanchez's name on the ballot.

'The purpose of the Election Code is to prevent fraud in our primary and general elections," Woolridge's lawsuit states. "The fraudulent and forged signatures submitted and filed by (Sanchez) in her petitions for a place on the Democratic ballot renders her applications null and void."

The lawsuit was filed in Ellis County against Sanchez, as well as the Texas Democratic Party, Democratic chairmen in Tarrant, Ellis and Navarro counties and the Texas secretary of state.

Sanchez filed paperwork with the court asking that the lawsuit be dismissed.

"Ms. Sanchez denies any fraud by her campaign," her filing states. "The small group of signatures that raised suspicions were set aside before ballot petition filing. Those signatures appear to have been collected by a person later revealed to have been helping the Woolridge Campaign while paid as a contractor for the Sanchez Campaign and who later openly moved over to the Woolridge camp. That person since admitted to signing a few names on behalf of voters (potentially a crime and so reported to appropriate authorities prior to receipt of the lawsuit)."

Sanchez said she will keep fighting the lawsuit.

"We will vigorously defend against this lawsuit and continue with our campaign to win the general election for our district and all Democrats on Nov. 6, 2018," Sanchez said.

Voter fraud cases

In April, Republican Justice of the Peace Russ Casey of Tarrant County pleaded guilty to tampering with a government record and resigned after an investigation showed he turned in fake signatures to secure a place on the March 6 primary ballot.

The embattled judge, who worked in Northeast Tarrant County, was sentenced to two years in jail that was probated over five years.

Many at the time asked why Casey received probation when women found guilty of election fraud received jail time.

"A Black woman mistakenly votes in an election in which she thought was allowed to but wasn't: 5 YEARS IN JAIL," Emily Farris, an assistant political science professor at TCU, posted on Twitter. "A white male politician commits fraud to win an election in the same county: PROBATION."

Before Casey's case, a judge sentenced Crystal Mason of Rendon to five years in prison for illegally voting in the 2016 presidential election while she was on probation from an earlier fraud conviction.

And in 2017, Rosa Maria Ortega, a Grand Prairie mother of four, was convicted of illegally voting and sentenced to eight years in prison. Ortega, who has a green card, was sentenced for illegally voting in the 2012 general election and the 2014 Republican primary runoff.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley