For the second time in two weeks, a South Texas woman has been arrested and charged with multiple counts of voter fraud.

Modesta Vela of Roma was arrested October 4 on four voter fraud charges relating to mail-in ballots. Vela is accused of approaching an elderly voter, taking the voter’s mail-in ballot for the November 2018 election, then filling it out herself and mailing it.

District Attorney Omar Escobar said his office began investigating Vela last month after the Starr County Elections Department notified him of the allegations. Vela was charged with felony counts of illegal voting, knowingly possessing a ballot or ballot envelope of another person with the intent to defraud, and election fraud, as well as a misdemeanor count of unlawful assistance of a voter.

Vela was arrested again Friday on four new voter fraud charges of tampering with a government record, namely voter registration applications. Starr County Special Crimes Unit made the arrest.

Escobar’s 229th District Attorney office (which covers Starr County), the Special Crimes Unit commanded by Robert Caples, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Election Fraud Unit have been working together since January on an ongoing voter fraud investigation that has resulted in several arrests for mail ballot fraud.

Escobar said the AG’s office is advising local authorities on what evidence to collect in Vela’s case. Vela, a former Starr County Precinct 2 employee who was fired earlier this year, assisted over 200 mail ballot voters in Starr County’s March 2018 Democratic primary. She was also arrested in 2010 on a voter fraud charge involving improper mail ballot assistance during that year’s Democratic primary.

Escobar warns mail ballots are the least secure method of voting. Prosecutors in the AG’s office told a Senate committee in February that mail ballot fraud is “by far the biggest problem we see across the state” and “the wild West of voter fraud.”

“This is an investigation that could go on for the next couple of years,” Caples said in February of the Starr County probe, one of several underway in the Rio Grande Valley. “People can say that election fraud doesn’t exist but maybe it’s because they don’t want to look.”

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.