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Socorro pays for security at polling locations after claims of rule-breaking by candidates

The runoff election in Socorro is costing taxpayers $24,000.

EL PASO, Texas (CBS4) -- The city of Socorro hired El Paso County Sheriff's deputies for security during a contentious runoff election. This is the first time in the history of elections in Socorro that the city had to pay for extra security. The city said it's because candidates and council members are accused of breaking the election rules. It says the purpose of hiring the security is to send a message that the city of Socorro does not condone violations.

The winners of the runoff election will fill two seats in the city of Socorro: mayor and District 2 representative.

Mayoral candidate Ivy Avalos, campaign worker Chuy Hernandez, and current City Council members Yvonne Colon-Villalobos and Maria Reyes are accused of violating the 100-foot rule during the July election, which means they are accused of campaigning closer than 100 feet to a polling location.

"If they did it, they should be dropped out and re-evaluate the new candidates before you do a re-election,” said Jose Gomez, who lived in Socorro for nine years.

Because of the formal complaints filed about the alleged rule-breaking, the city decided to hire sheriff's deputies to guard the polling places throughout the runoff election.

"Everything seems normal. So I don't think it would be too necessary,” said Socorro resident Karla Escalante.

"It's good because it's more security, more protection for the people," said Socorro resident Jose Herrera (translated from Spanish).

The city of Socorro is paying $16,468.20 to the elections department for the runoff, $5,460 to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office for security and $2,376.20 to the El Paso Times to announce the election. In total, that’s $24,304.40.

This runoff election is costing the city even more than the actual election last month, which the city said cost about $20,000 total.

"Don't use it! Use it on the streets! Sidewalks. On the water irrigation sewer,” said former Socorro resident Lily Gomez.

People CBS4 spoke with said it's hard to trust the election, when the money being used is needed elsewhere.

"If they cheated once, what's going to stop them from cheating again? That's one. Two: how are you going to spend people's hard-earned money when you've got ditches overflowing down here in Socorro?" asked Gomez.

The city administration sent a formal complaint to the elections department asking for a full investigation of the alleged violations. The city also sent the security footage of the incident to the elections department.

CBS4 reporter Ashley Claster obtained the following through an open records request:

“El Paso Elections Department personnel reported disorderly conduct and 100-foot marker violations at the election polling site on the part of two campaign parties during early voting. Two written complaints detailing the violations and misconduct are attached. The names of the subjects of the complaints are highlighted. The City of Socorro would like the Elections Department to give this matter serious attention and if necessary, forward to the appropriate investigating entity to determine if any laws were broken.

“Early voting took place in a City of Socorro building making this matter of major importance as the city does not want to be perceived as having condoned or supported the reported behavior and/or violations. The City of Socorro can provide additional witness statements and/or security camera footage if necessary.”

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