Moody Methodist Church is one of the city’s most popular voting locations.
But for a short time this week, the church appeared set to sit out the Dec. 15 election.
On Tuesday, the Galveston City Council approved a list of voting locations and the church wasn’t among them.
The church’s absence caused mayoral candidate Roger “Bo” Quiroga to cast suspicions at his opponent, acting Mayor Craig Brown, and imply that the church’s absence would put him at a disadvantage in the race. The accusations, in turn, led Brown to accuse Quiroga of spreading misinformation about the situation, even after the church was added back into the city’s voting plans.
On Friday, the county’s top election official said it wasn’t political conspiracy that caused the confusion, but rather concerns about COVID-19.
Moody Methodist Church, 2803 53rd St., generally is one of the more popular polling locations on the island, in part because of its central location with a big parking lot in a residential neighborhood, officials said.
It has been used as a voting location in Galveston since at least 2010 and was used as both an early voting location and an Election Day polling place in both the primary election and general election this year.
But on Tuesday, the Galveston City Council approved an ordinance setting the polling sites for the runoff election, with five designated polling locations on the island. Brown at the meeting said the Moody Methodist church “was not available.”
Because only one of the five locations — a fire station on the West End — was west of 61st Street, the council asked City Secretary Janelle Williams to explore adding another polling place if the city was still able.
On Wednesday, Quiroga sent a message to supporters complaining about the council’s actions and saying that, thanks to his campaign’s efforts, the church was added back to the list.
In the email, Quiroga said Brown was “fine with having only one polling place for the West End. “
On Friday, Quiroga said he was suspicious of the absence of the church on the list and said Brown should have consulted with his campaign before signing off on the voting locations.
“I don’t want to accuse anybody of anything, but the mayor pro tem had to sign off on it,” Quiroga said. “That makes it suspicious. That’s why we got on the phone and worked it real hard to see what the deal was because that was a total shock and surprise to us. Nobody asked us anything about polling places. It just didn’t look good.”
There was some political strategy behind Quiroga’s criticism.
During November’s general election, Quiroga drew strong support from voters from neighborhoods between 74th Street and 40th Street.
While Brown and Quiroga were separated by less than 200 votes in areas outside that precinct, Quiroga earned 1,200 more votes than Brown inside of it.
By not having the church as a polling place, Quiroga suggested he could lose out on some of those votes.
“That’s one of our strongholds,” Quiroga said. “It just didn’t make any sense to us why the city wouldn’t continue to have it there.”
Brown on Thursday accused Quiroga of spreading misinformation and said he had no role in choosing the voting locations.
“There wasn’t some kind of conspiracy at all,” Brown said.
He voted to approve the list that was suggested by the county and said it was the county’s mistake not to include the location.
“I took the county at their word that Moody Methodist Church did not want to do this,” Brown said. “As soon as I heard that the county would put it back on, I said put it back on.”
Galveston County Clerk Dwight Sullivan on Friday confirmed that it was his office’s suggestion to leave the church off the city’s list of potential runoff sites. He rejected any suggestion that the locations were caused by political influence.
“That’s not true at all,” Sullivan said. His office was “trying to respect the wishes of the facility,” he said
The county was hoping to avoid using churches and other private property during the runoff because private locations might have requirements for people to wear face masks while on the property, Sullivan said.
Such requirements conflict with Gov. Greg Abbott and Galveston County Judge Mark Henry’s executive orders on face masks, which allow people to vote without wearing a mask. Poll workers who attempt to make people wear masks are subject to fines, according to Henry’s orders.
The county was trying to avoid conflicting rules by not using the location or other churches, Sullivan said. After the complaints arose, Sullivan said he spoke with church officials and confirmed they were willing to have the church be used as a voting site.
He urged people who do choose to vote at the church to respect its rules regarding masks.
While Quiroga on Friday took credit for getting the county to add the church back on to the list of polling places, Brown said he wasn’t aware of what changed at the county to make the church available. He said he was happy to sign the order to add the church back onto the list.
He wasn’t concerned about the polling locations being in a place where Quiroga received more votes.
“I didn’t even think about that,” Brown said. “The important thing is getting people out to vote.”
Early voting begins Nov. 30. Election day is Dec. 15.