A non-citizen accused of illegally registering to vote in Harris County and voting in multiple Texas elections will be prosecuted by the state for voter fraud, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office announced Monday.

A Montgomery County grand jury indicted Laura Janeth Garza, a Mexican national, on two counts of election fraud related to the November 2016 presidential election. It’s a violation of state and federal law for non-citizens to register to vote.

Garza is charged with voter impersonation and ineligible voting, both second-degree felonies.

The Attorney General’s office said in a statement that a joint investigation with the Texas Department of Public Safety found Garza had illegally registered to vote in Harris County and cast ballots in 2004, 2012, and 2016 after stealing the identity of a U.S. citizen.

Garza’s fraud was only discovered when the citizen whose identity she stole applied for a U.S. passport and found that Garza had already done so using her identity.

The U.S. State Department referred Garza’s case to the Criminal Investigations Division of DPS, which is working with the AG’s office on the voter fraud investigation and prosecution.

“Here again, we see how the checkbox honor system of claiming citizenship in voter registration is flawed,” said Logan Churchwell, spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a law firm dedicated to election integrity.

“Officials are finding ineligible voters by happenstance and luck,” Churchwell told Texas Scorecard.

PILF is currently engaged in federal and state lawsuits over Harris County’s refusal to disclose public records of non-citizens who registered to vote in the county, then were later discovered and removed from the voter rolls. County officials are dodging federal transparency laws to keep the records hidden.

The Foundation requested access to Harris County’s voter registration records under the National Voter Registration Act. The NVRA, also known as the “Motor Voter” law, includes a transparency provision that requires local election officials to allow public inspection of all records relating to voter roll maintenance.

Harris County Voter Registrar Ann Harris Bennett and County Attorney Vince Ryan — both Democrats — refused to allow inspection of the records, triggering a federal lawsuit filed by PILF in March. The AG’s office has twice told Ryan and Bennett that Harris County should disclose the records, once in a legal opinion requested by Ryan, and again in response to Ryan suing the AG to challenge that opinion.

“Texans deserve better policy here,” said Churchwell. “The Texas Secretary of State should be in constant communication with DPS and other authorities with valuable data to verify voters. The PILF hopes the Texas Legislature steps up in 2019.”

The Foundation is gathering public voter roll information from across the country and documenting systemic problems uncovered in the process. Their aim is not only improving the security of registration and voting procedures, but government transparency as well.

“Citizens deserve protections against illegal activities” like those alleged in Harris County, said PILF President and General Counsel J. Christian Adams, “and transparency is the first step toward ensuring them.”

One state lawmaker has already committed to address the problem of non-citizens registering and voting in Texas elections. State Sen. Don Huffines (R–Dallas) announced in April that he will file legislation in 2019 requiring election officials to proactively “verify the citizenship of every single applicant who registers to vote” in the state.

Paxton said his office “will continue to do everything in our power to safeguard the electoral process in Texas.”

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.