Voters alleged to be victims of illegal mail ballot harvesting, and the woman who harvested their ballots, testified this week in a court challenge of an election decided by just one vote.
All of the witnesses who testified that they were assisted by the harvester had one more thing in common: they didn’t know who they voted for.
In fact, the voters couldn’t identify any of the people or races on the ballot they’d supposedly filled out just a few weeks before, and had never heard of the two candidates in the contested race.
“It’s understandable that people who didn’t think they voted in the race can’t tell me how they voted,” the judge remarked Wednesday after hearing testimony in the election contest.
Kaufman County Court at Law No. 1 candidate Tracy Booker Gray filed the contest last week challenging the results of the March 6 Republican primary. Incumbent Judge Dennis Jones, who is named in the contest but isn’t accused of any wrongdoing, was declared the winner of that race. Gray, a partner in the local law firm Guest and Gray, received more in-person votes, but Jones received 144 more mail-in ballot votes than Gray.
Gray’s lawsuit contends that Brenda Prince, a known vote harvester in the city of Terrell, illegally assisted or coerced multiple voters, and requested and submitted mail ballots without voters’ knowledge or direction.
Prince, who identified herself in court Tuesday as a political activist for the Democrat Party, acknowledged helping 20 to 30 voters in her Terrell community apply for and submit mail-in ballots in the March primary. But she testified at the hearing that she’d done nothing wrong.
“If they ask me to assist, that’s what I do,” Prince told the court. “Whatever the voter directs me to do.”
District Judge Marty Lowy, who was assigned to the case from outside the county as required by law, said he found Prince’s testimony unconvincing. Lowy noted that he’d never heard this type of case before “but we’ve had ample experience in Dallas County with this type of vote harvesting.”
“The court is unable to credit most of Ms. Prince’s testimony,” Lowy said at the conclusion of the hearing on Wednesday, though “she was certainly a much better witness than many of the voters.”
“She has contradicted the testimony of virtually every voter who has appeared here,” Lowy said, “and I am unwilling to discredit all of their testimony and credit hers.”
Two voters whose ballots Prince harvested, an elderly couple from Terrell who can’t read or write, gave typical testimony.
“I don’t know who I voted for,” the husband responded when asked if he cast a vote for Gray or Jones on his primary ballot. “All I know is she [Prince] fills it out, I sign it, and she takes it,” he told Gray’s attorney Elizabeth Alvarez.
The judge questioned him further:
Judge: Did you know there was a primary election on March 6, a month ago?
Judge: When Ms. Prince helps you to fill out your ballot, do you tell her how you want her to vote?
Witness: No, she never does ask me. She knows how I want to vote, me and my wife, for 12 years now.
Judge: Did Ms. Prince ask if you wanted to vote for Ms. Gray or Mr. Jones?
Witness: I don’t even know them.
His wife also testified that she didn’t know there was a primary election in March and couldn’t recall if she cast a vote in the race between Gray and Jones. “I don’t know anything about no politics,” she said. “I don’t remember who it was.”
Another elderly voter assisted by Prince thought she had voted in the Democrat primary, when in fact a ballot in her name was cast in the Republican primary. She too said she had no idea who she had voted for. “The last time I really remember anything is when JFK was elected,” she said.
Gray’s attorney argued in closing that the voters who testified couldn’t say how they voted “because they’re not the ones who voted.”
“They weren’t too old to remember,” Alvarez said. “All of them remembered that Brenda Prince picked up the voting papers.”
Attorney Wade Emmert, who is representing Jones, said in closing that he didn’t believe the contestant had met the burden of proof. “In almost any close election, you can find some voters who don’t remember what happened,” Emmert said. “But you have to show whatever illegality happened affected the outcome of the race.”
“This is a close election – one vote,” he argued, “but if there is not evidence that any of these voters voted in this race, they haven’t met their burden of proof.”
The court also heard testimony from Kaufman County’s elections supervisor Teressa Floyd, attorney Christina Adkins from the Texas Secretary of State’s Elections Division, and handwriting expert Curt Baggett.
Lowy said he was inclined to invalidate several of the questionable ballots – making it impossible to determine a winner in the race, as there is no way to know how those ballots were cast.
“I don’t think the law can require the contestant to prove what is impossible to prove,” the judge said, “when the witnesses all said the same thing: ‘I don’t know how I voted.’”
The only other remedy is to order a new election.
The judge said he expects to rule no later than close of business Thursday.