The whole thing, Jose Barrientos says, comes down to his running his mouth. If he hadn't shot off about how someone could go about stealing the election for Dallas City Council District 6, he says, he wouldn't be in the trouble he is now.
But he did tell Sidney Williams, another hanger-on of Dallas' political periphery, about stealing votes from incumbent City Council member Monica Alonzo with help from some harvested absentee ballots. Barrientos didn't know that Williams was recording the conversation on his Pleasant Grove porch.
"I know it doesn't look right, but it's just bullshitting," Barrientos told the Dallas Observer. "If the investigators do their job, I'll be cleared."
Barrientos, according to Williams, is Jose Rodriguez, the shadowy figure who helped request about 700 ballots that were impounded by the county on Election Day. Williams, according to the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, is also a person of interest in the investigation.
Williams, who did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this article, took his recording to WFAA-TV (Channel 8). The station painted Williams as a whistleblower and, Williams told The Dallas Morning News, paid him at least $1,000 for exclusive rights to the tape.
Here's a key section from the initial WFAA story:
Williams: Where did you get this from?
Barrientos: Umm. You ask too many questions. What are you trying to be, a cop or something?
Barrientos: I just got a copy of it. That's the first absentee ballot that was filed as a fraudulent absentee.
Williams: The first absentee. Who did it? They didn't catch it?
Barrientos: Look who signed it. Jose Rodriguez. I don't remember my name being Rodriguez but … .[Laughs.] You're talking to the master, bro. You ain't got to sweat me. It was brought to my attention because it looks like my handwriting.
Williams: It does. I ain't even going to lie. It looks like your signature.
Barrientos: Maybe. Maybe not. I'll never tell.
Williams is referring to a rejected request for an absentee ballot, signed by Jose Rodriguez. Barrientos says that an Alonzo supporter — whom he declined to name — gave him the application early in the campaign because he or she wanted Barrientos to shine a light on potential fraud that was happening in the West Dallas voting precinct of which he was previously chair.
"It happened in my precinct, that's what frustrated me the most," Barrientos said, so he wanted to bring publicity to the abuse of seniors in West Dallas. "In my motherfucking precinct, someone is beating up my seniors right under my nose. It infuriated me. I was upset."
Barrientos didn't want to go public with the application himself, he says, so he brought it up with Williams the next time he saw him.
"Lo and behold, here comes the biggest mouth," Barrientos said of Williams. All he wanted to do, he says, is get Williams worked up enough about the rejected application to make a stink about it. Barrientos didn't expect Williams to identify him as the "absentee king" to WFAA.
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There is no conspiracy, Barrientos says. No one at the Dallas County Elections Office tipped him off when absentee ballots were going to be mailed, nor did any of the six candidates who ran in District 6 pay him to harvest mail-in ballots. He hasn't helped any campaign during the 2017 City Council election, he says, and no longer lives in District 6.
As the Observer has reported throughout the aftermath of the District 6 ballots being sequestered, vote counts in the race don't support the idea that a vote harvester — be it Barrientos, Williams or anyone else — worked on behalf of any of the campaigns in the race.
Alonzo won 48 percent of the disputed votes. Omar Narvaez, her chief rival and challenger in a June 10 runoff, won 37 percent of the disputed votes, echoing the 11-point margin separating the two among ballots cast on Election Day. If anyone was lurking in District 6, pouncing on seniors' absentee ballots, that person was out only for him- or herself, trying to build a big enough stack of votes to swing the election one way or the other. Barrientos says that that person, if he or she exists, didn't finish the job.
"The way it works is you fill out the application, you get the ballot in the mail. Normally, nine times out of 10, the senior gets the ballot, fills it out and sends it off," he says. "That's why it's split; they made sure that they got the ballot in the mail. They did the initial of signing up enough people, but they didn't follow through with it."