In the state’s latest prosecution of voter fraud, authorities have arrested a South Texas woman for using a dead person’s identity to vote illegally in the March 2016 Democratic primary election in Starr County.

Bernice Annette Garza is accused of signing and submitting an application for an early voting ballot by mail for Hortencia Rios, who died nine years earlier.

Garza is charged with voter impersonation, illegal voting, and providing false information on an application for a mail ballot. Illegal voting is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that his office’s Election Fraud Unit made the arrest and will prosecute Garza’s case with the assistance of the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office.

“Mail ballots are inherently insecure. Vote harvesters, who make a living by exploiting vulnerable processes intended to make it easier for people to vote, threaten the viability of the mail ballot system and must be caught and prosecuted,” Paxton said in a statement. “My office will continue to use everything in its power to prevent voter fraud and restore integrity to the voting process in Texas.”

As part of an ongoing voter fraud investigation in Starr County started early last year by District Attorney Omar Escobar, three women were arrested in February and charged with submitting fraudulent mail ballots. In October, another Starr County woman was arrested twice in two weeks and charged with multiple counts of voter fraud involving mail ballots and voter registration applications.

Starr County was sued in federal court in 2016 by the American Civil Rights Union for failing to maintain accurate voter registration lists as required by the National Voter Registration Act. A September 2018 settlement agreement requires the county to implement procedures to remove deceased, duplicate, non-citizen, and other ineligible registrants from its voter rolls.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.