Ongoing conspiracy on the way of doing his job by Texas Election Chief

To remind the public that elections in Gillespie County are “safe, accurate and dependable, Jim Riley and his team spent weeks preparing for a forum to help in the same.

More than 50 people are expected by the new county elections administrator. For this, he considered more experienced election officials from a neighboring county to be there to help him clarify election laws that were not known to him. He set up voting equipment for the audience for a mock election.

Some county Republicans, local tea party members, and two dozen people came there and walked out before his presentation ended. Riley believes that they no longer want him in the job and that those who have disrupted are the same people in elections are run in the county.

Riley was disappointed; he said that the word would get out, and they would get out, and he said that he was still standing.

Riley, age 76, intends to stay standing; it means standing up to the pressure of local right-wing activists who want him to radically change the way Gillespie elections are run. It is more pushback than he expected when he took the job in August.

Riley says that he was just astonished. But he was dealing with it, and he was not quitting. According to Gillespie’s recent history, it was not a small commitment. 

Six months into his new role, Riley has signaled that he will not easily bend to the activists’ demands to fix county election problems that don’t exist. 

“Thrown into a hornet’s nest”

When the entire election staff quit in the summer of 2022, the county officials spent many months looking for a new elections director. Riley had been a precinct judge — tasked with supervising polling locations — for the local Republican Party for years, which meant he was familiar with how elections in the county were run. While the job was vacant, he helped manage early voting during the November 2022 midterm election and helped the county clerk in the months that followed. County officials encouraged him to apply for the job; he did so in June.

Meanwhile, some Republicans and activists had been organizing an effort aimed at convincing county executives to ditch electronic voting equipment and instead use volunteers to hand-count ballots.

More than 20,000 registered voters live in Gillespie, and about 80% are Republican.

Although county executives dismissed the push to hand count, by the time Riley was appointed to his new position, a move state officials had warned would require double the amount of workers and volunteers, of resources and a risk of legal challenges from candidates, but a decision the party was legally allowed to make.

The sunset over Hill Country in Fredericksburg on Feb. 6. The mock election was staged at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in Gillespie County. Credit: Maria Crane/The Texas Tribune

Mo Saiidi, then the chairman of the county’s Republican Party, resigned last fall following his opposition to the party’s decision to hand-count ballots in the primary election.

“Anybody who would have come into that job would have been thrown into a hornet’s nest, to be honest with you,” Saiidi said.

Saiidi was a member of the election commission that appointed Riley. He said the county was left scrambling when former elections administrator Anissa Herrera — who’d run elections there since 2019 — and her staff quit. He’s concerned that it could happen again.

“It’s the same now with Jim there,” Saiidi said. “The same barrages of baseless complaints. This is not healthy; we’ve gotta do something. We need to let them do their jobs.”