Ken Paxton

Let’s stamp out Voter Fraud in Texas

Wednesday, March 1, 2006
The Iraqi people have reminded the world that democratic elections are still possible, even in a country that until very recently was pinned under the thumb of total, murderous rule.

America has helped make those elections happen, and we should be proud. But while we work to ensure the polls in other countries are free of corruption, we shouldn't forget about our own. In Texas, an epidemic of voter fraud is infesting the electoral process and it's time we rooted it out.

Of course, voter fraud is no newcomer to the Lone Star State. Six decades ago, the votes "found" in Jim Wells County's infamous Ballot Box 13 helped squeak Lyndon Johnson into the U.S. Senate. Maybe none quite so dramatic, but other instances of "election irregularities" on both sides of the political aisle have plagued Texas since that 1948 primary.

And the fraud continues. Just since last summer, my office has been involved in several voter fraud cases across the state. Last month, three people, including a Texarkana City Council member, were indicted in Bowie County for illegally possessing mail-in ballots of several senior voters.

In Reeves County, the mother of a March 2004 primary candidate for sheriff and another woman were indicted in January for illegally possessing and transporting election ballots of several voters.

In Nueces County, four women allegedly targeted elderly voters during last year's local school board elections, going door-to-door soliciting votes and then taking ballots and carrier envelopes to the post office.

A Hardeman County commissioner pleaded guilty to illegally collecting mail-in ballots during the 2004 elections that put him in office.

And in Bee County, a Beeville resident pleaded guilty to mailing an absentee ballot in the name of her deceased mother during the November 2004 elections.

I know local prosecutors are dealing with voter fraud, too. The week before Christmas, the Hidalgo County District Attorney's Office obtained indictments against nine people in connection with the McAllen city election in May 2005. My office assisted with the investigation.

At first glance, these might seem like isolated events in far-flung towns. Step back, though, and the picture looks just as sinister as it did 60 years ago. For example, Texas has long been a haven for paid political operatives who target seniors and the disabled to handle their mail-in ballots for them. Many of the cases referred to my office by the Secretary of State fall into this category.

Some try to claim these folks are simply helping seniors make their voices heard, but that's just a smokescreen to hide the fact that this manipulation is simply another form of elder abuse.

The fact is, voter fraud allegations are surfacing in communities from the Rio Grande to the Red River, from the Pecos to the Piney Woods. For too long, Texas has turned a blind eye to these crimes, thinking everyone does it, it is too hard to prosecute, it's not really a serious crime, it's always taken place, or some other excuse. The reality is that voter fraud is occurring on a large scale when viewed statewide and, consequently, our state elections are significantly impacted.

We must redouble our efforts to stem this epidemic. I have asked my office's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to work with police departments, sheriff’s offices, and district and county attorneys to successfully identify, investigate and prosecute various types of voter fraud offenses.

Officers from the SIU, working through a $1.5 million grant from the Governor’s office, have been visiting key counties across the state to conduct voter fraud training for law enforcement. Included among these counties are the 14 where my office has previously investigated or prosecuted alleged election code violations. In addition to the ones mentioned above, the list includes Comal, Floyd, Harris, Hidalgo, Jim Wells, Parker, Robertson, Tarrant and Waller.

Criminal investigators from SIU are also visiting 30 other Texas counties with populations of at least 100,000. Together, these 44 counties contain more than three-quarters of eligible registered voters in the state. As of mid-February, a total of 519 officers had attended 76 sessions offered.

With more law enforcement officers and prosecutors on the alert, those who would commit fraud hopefully will think twice before manipulating a disabled voter or casting a ballot from the grave. If they do it anyway, let this be their notice that we will come after them.

Thank you for your partnership in stamping out voter fraud in Texas. If you would like more information about our voter fraud training, feel free to contact the Office of the Attorney General at (512) 463-2100.