State and local officials are investigating a possible case of illegal vote harvesting in East Texas after an unusually large number of mail-in ballots were submitted in one county’s March 2018 Democratic primary.

At a press conference Wednesday, Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt announced that an election fraud complaint has been filed with the Texas Secretary of State, who in turn has forwarded it to the Texas Attorney General’s office “for review and assessment.”

The complaint, filed by local resident Rev. D.J. Nelson, stems from the March 5 Democratic primary race for Gregg County Commissioner Precinct 4. The contest was decided by a five-vote margin, 1,047 to 1,042.

An unusually high 32 percent of the votes were cast by mail-in ballots — 494 for winning candidate Shannon Brown, and 179 for his opponent Kasha Williams.

State Sen. Brian Hughes (R–Mineola), who spoke at the press conference, said that about nine percent of ballots are usually cast by mail statewide.

An equally unusual 39 percent of voters who requested a Democrat primary ballot by mail cited disability as their reason for voting by mail. Only voters who are age 65 or older, disabled, out of the county on Election Day, or in jail are eligible to vote by mail in Texas.

In Starr County, vote harvesters have been accused of falsely marking mail ballot applications to indicate voters are disabled when they are not — allowing them to harvest the ballots of voters who aren’t actually eligible to vote by mail. Three politiqueras were arrested there earlier this year for submitting fraudulent mail ballot applications in the March 2018 primary.

Officials are not challenging the outcome of the Gregg County primary, just looking at what happened.

“That election is over,” said State Rep. Jay Dean (R–Longview), but added he believes that illegal vote harvesting “has been going on for some time” in Gregg County.

“This is too important for us to ignore,” said Hughes, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Election Security. “If the law was broken, folks need to be held accountable.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office is now reviewing the case, said in a statement:

“The Office of the Attorney General has received a complaint alleging organized vote harvesting in Gregg County. While our general policy is not to comment on any investigation in its early stages, we review election fraud complaints thoroughly, and where warranted, will investigate election offenses to the full extent of our resources. Election fraud undermines completely the integrity of the voting process and cannot be tolerated to any degree.”

Stoudt added that investigators from the local district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices stand ready to assist in the investigation, and he encouraged anyone with information about the case to contact local law enforcement or state officials.

Offices of Texas’ Secretary of State and Attorney General, along with the Gregg County Sheriff and District Attorney, are all cooperating in the case.

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.