Mail-in ballots are again the target of a voter fraud investigation in Nueces County – and fraud victims have again turned to private citizens for help that law enforcement couldn’t or wouldn’t provide.
Government watchdog group Direct Action Texas filed 30 new election fraud complaints this week alleging mail-in ballots were illegally harvested and forged in the November 2017 Robstown City Council election.
A slate of candidates headed by Mayor Mandy Barrera appears to have benefitted from the harvested mail ballots, according to DAT’s review of the evidence. The group looked at mail-in ballot applications and carrier envelopes from the election and conducted field interviews with voters.
DAT’s executive direct Aaron Harris described what his team discovered:
“First we found the usual dozens of applications with matching handwriting. Mayor Barrera’s handwriting is especially distinctive. Her handwriting appears on numerous applications and on some, she lists herself as an assistant, but on others she fails to do so, violating Section 84.003 of the Election Code.”
DAT learned that Barrera appointee Rose Flores also assisted voters with their mail-in ballots and failed to fill out the assistant portion of the carrier envelope.
“We also found forgery, a violation of Penal Code 32.21, on the application of Beatriz Vasquez and others. In the case of Vasquez, she is listed in the voter rolls as “Beatriz” and signs her name that way on her carrier envelope, yet her application has her name both printed and signed as “Beatrice.” Did she forget how to spell her own name on her application?”
DAT sent the evidence it collected along with formal complaints to the Secretary of State and Office of the Attorney General (OAG). The OAG already has three ongoing voter fraud investigations in Nueces County, two involving mail-in ballots for 2016 municipal elections.
Harris says his group became involved when he was contacted by a candidate. Both Harris and Nueces County Clerk Kara Sands, the county’s chief elections official, reached out to the OAG for help during the election – help which didn’t come because the OAG says it simply doesn’t have the resources.
“DAT was shocked to learn that a county official has no one to turn to when they observe election fraud happening in real time,” Harris told Texas Scorecard. “This activity preys upon the most vulnerable among us, especially the elderly and those who speak English as a second language. Who should these victims turn to for help?”
Sands warned county commissioners last week that mail-in ballot fraud remains a concern.
“Election fraud is real in Nueces County,” Sands told commissioners court. “There’s a problem.”
She added, “This is not a victimless crime. The voters are the victims, but the candidates are the victims as well.”
Voter fraud is a real problem in other Texas counties, too.
Illegal mail ballot harvesting in Dallas city elections is the subject of an ongoing joint criminal investigation by the Dallas County District Attorney and the OAG.
Starr County launched a mail ballot voter fraud investigation earlier this month after finding voters who may have lied on ballot applications for the upcoming May 6 primaries.
“Our legislature has given us a very clear mandate to begin and try to prevent voter fraud,” Starr County District Attorney Omar Escobar said, referring to a bill passed last year to crack down on mail ballot voter fraud.
Senate Bill 5 made it a state jail felony to provide false information on an application or submit an application without a voter’s permission, or to unlawfully assist a voter with a mail-in ballot. Sands and Harris were both outspoken proponents of election integrity reforms, including SB 5, in last year’s legislative sessions.
The new law took effect December 1, 2017, so its stronger penalties won’t apply to violations during the November election. But they will apply to fraud committed in Robstown’s December 19 runoff.
Harris says DAT will be filing additional complaints from that election.
Earlier this month DAT took the lead in exposing a different type of voter fraud: voter signatures on a Tarrant County judge’s candidate petitions that the voters themselves say are forgeries. The group also tracked down evidence and filed election fraud complaints involving illegal mail-in ballot harvesting in Dallas, Harrison, and Tarrant counties.
Harris says he’s frustrated that Texans have no one to turn to in these situations. Texans who can’t get law enforcement’s help fighting election fraud are turning to Harris and his team.