Felony voter fraud charges have been filed against the first suspect in Dallas County’s ongoing criminal investigation of forged mail ballots and illegal vote harvesting in this May’s elections – and prosecutors say he won’t be the last.
Miguel Hernandez of Dallas was charged Friday with illegal voting, a third-degree felony, for allegedly taking a voter’s blank mail ballot, filling it out and forging her signature on it, then submitting the ballot. If convicted, Hernandez faces two to 10 years in prison.
The voter said Hernandez identified himself as Jose Rodriguez. That name was on dozens of suspicious mail ballots as an “assistant.” Prosecutors now believe it’s fake.
Similar illegal ballot harvesting activity was reported by an “off the charts” number of elderly voters in West Dallas and Grand Prairie leading up to the May 6 local elections, prompting the Dallas County District Attorney’s office to open a criminal investigation.
Voters complained to the Dallas County Elections Office that they received mail ballots they didn’t request and had been approached by people like Hernandez offering “assistance” completing their ballots that they also didn’t request.
A Dallas Democrat operative was caught on tape describing in detail how these illegal vote harvesting schemes work, including paying off people inside the elections office to find out when ballots are mailed to voters.
Over 700 potentially fraudulent mail ballots from the May election were set aside for extra scrutiny and verification at the request of the Dallas County District Attorney’s office. Nearly a hundred were thrown out because of mismatched signatures on applications and ballots. They’ve been turned over to investigators for forensic testing.
Other fraudulent mail ballots could have been overlooked, however, if the same person forged signatures on both the application and the ballot documents.
Authorities have identified at least two other persons of interest in the ballot harvesting case, and prosecutors say they plan more arrests in the next month.
“We’re happy we’ve got one warrant, the investigation’s proceeding, and we think we’re getting close,” said Dallas County’s first assistant district attorney Mike Snipes, a former federal prosecutor.
Pat Stephens, a senior citizen from Westmoreland Heights who was targeted in the vote harvesting scheme, was instrumental in catching Hernandez. When he tried to harvest her mail ballot, she took a picture of his ID and turned it over to authorities.
“That makes me feel real good,” Stephens said Friday, after hearing Hernandez was being arrested and charged. “Somebody that would be defrauding senior citizens like that really needs to be locked up.”
Assistant District Attorney Andy Chatham, the Dallas County prosecutor leading the investigation, said he’ll ask a judge to sequester all mail ballots for the June 10 runoff so investigators can analyze them as well.
Officials are urging Dallas voters to participate in the electoral process, and at the same time to be aware of fraudsters trying to steal their votes and report any suspicious mail ballot activity to the county elections office.