Texas is finally starting to crack down on voter fraud.
The state’s Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Wednesday that his office is prosecuting three Robstown residents on nine counts of voter fraud committed in Nueces County during the 2016 elections. A grand jury indicted the three on multiple felony charges that include mail-in ballot fraud, ballot theft, vote harvesting, and illegal voting.
Cynthia Kay Gonzalez was indicted on four counts related to mail ballot harvesting in the May 2016 Nueces County Democratic primary runoff election. Rosita Torres Flores was charged with two counts of voter fraud for using an elderly victim’s mail-in ballot to vote without the voter’s consent during the November 2016 general election. Robert Gonzalez was charged by the grand jury with three counts of unlawfully divulging how another person voted in the December 2016 Robstown Municipal Utility Board runoff election.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has three voter fraud investigations open in Nueces County relating to 2016 elections.
Government watchdog group Direct Action Texas also filed 30 new election fraud complaints with the OAG in January. The complaints allege mail-in ballots were illegally harvested and forged in the November 2017 Robstown City Council election.
Nueces County Clerk Kara Sands, the county’s chief elections official, appealed to the OAG for help as that election was taking place but was advised that the state simply doesn’t have the resources to investigate voter fraud as it’s occurring. Sands also warned county commissioners earlier this year that voter fraud is an ongoing problem. “Election fraud is real in Nueces County,” Sands told commissioners court.
“This is not a victimless crime,” she added. “The voters are the victims, but the candidates are the victims as well.”
Gilbert Gomez, a retired Robstown police officer and past county constable candidate, told commissioners he receives constant complaints from voters who say they were intimidated by people offering to assist them with their mail-in ballots:
“We noticed that the people who were being taken advantage were either elderly people, people that are disabled, people that are scared or intimidated and don’t want to come forward. They’re scared. That’s why it’s easy for these people to prey on these (individuals) because they know that they’re not going to come forward.”
The OAG is investigating voter fraud in Dallas County in tandem with that county’s district attorney. One person has been prosecuted. A grand jury charged Miguel Hernandez with illegal voting, a second-degree felony, last July. Hernandez is accused of being part of an illegal mail ballot harvesting scheme that targeted elderly West Dallas voters in the May 2017 municipal elections.
Starr County District Attorney Omar Escobar launched his own voter fraud investigation in January, after a federal lawsuit over the county’s voter rolls revealed ineligible people were registered and voting. County officials began investigating and prosecuting suspects as fraudulent activity was occurring and have made seven arrests so far. Three politiqueras are accused of submitting fraudulent mail ballot applications in the March 2018 primary elections. Four felons are charged with illegally voting in 2016 elections. Starr County Special Crimes Unit Commander Robert Caples says more arrests are expected soon.
“Nothing is more vital to our democracy than the integrity of our voting process, and my office will do everything within its abilities to solidify trust in every election in the state of Texas,” Paxton said in a statement. “I’m hopeful these prosecutions will send a message that deters voter fraud in the future.”