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A Dallas County man who admitted forging a voter’s signature on a mail-in ballot will serve six months in jail as part of a plea deal.

Miguel Hernandez was charged almost a year ago with illegal voting, a second-degree felony, and accused of being part of a mail-ballot harvesting scheme that targeted elderly West Dallas voters in last year’s local elections.

Hernandez pleaded guilty this week to a reduced misdemeanor voter fraud charge of unlawfully returning a marked ballot and was sentenced to 180 days in jail. He’ll be credited with time he served following his arrest last July.

Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said this is the “first of many milestones” in the criminal voter fraud investigation her office is conducting jointly with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office.

The year-long investigation has focused on mail-in ballots cast in last May’s city elections that prosecutors believe were fraudulently obtained through illegal voter “assistance” or coercion, or were forged – or both.

Hernandez admits knocking on a West Dallas voter’s door and asking for her blank mail-in ballot. He later marked it to vote for a Dallas City Council candidate, forged the voter’s signature, and sent it to the Dallas County Elections Department.

The forged ballot also had the signature of an assistant, “Jose Rodriguez” — a fake name used by Hernandez on hundreds of mail ballots in the May 2017 election. Over 700 questionable ballots were set aside for extra scrutiny before being counted; those determined to be fraudulent were turned over to the DA’s office for forensic testing. So far authorities have not arrested any other suspects.

Illegal vote harvesting is an ongoing problem in Dallas County. In this year’s March primary, prosecutors again set aside hundreds of potentially fraudulent mail ballot requests.

Johnson said she hopes Hernandez’s conviction “will send a message to anyone who dares to threaten the integrity of the voting process. We will not tolerate it and you will be brought to justice.”

An added deterrent is the state’s new law imposing stiffer penalties on mail ballot voter fraud, which was enacted after Hernandez committed his crime.

“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy,” Johnson said. “We must protect the process so that all citizens may have confidence in the system.”