in Houston, Texas

Charged with illegal vote harvesting, a political worker explains how voter fraud works

Zaida Bueno, accused of illegal vote harvesting in Jim Wells County. Photo by Lynn Walsh.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010, 02:10AM CST
By Steve Miller

ALICE, Texas - Zaida Bueno, accused of illegal vote harvesting in the 2008 primary in Jim Wells County, is up-front about her deeds. Yes, she helped coach votes and collect mail-in ballots for a number of local elected officials over the past eight years.

"County, the whole county and the whole courthouse – city council, school board, any election you name, I’ve done," Bueno says.

She even worked for Jim Wells County District Attorney Armando G. Barrera in 2008, handling ballots for the campaign.

"I put them in my bag, I want to make sure nobody sees, you know, you're not supposed to do [this]," Bueno says. Then, she drops them off in the mail and leaves the post office quickly.

Trouble is, Bueno's line of work corrupts the vote and is against the law.

 

But Bueno says she didn't know that. After all, it was the candidates themselves who were giving her the instructions, she said.

 

"I would not have done it if I thought it was illegal," she said during a recent interview in her home in Alice. 

 

Bueno, 55, was charged in February with four counts of illegally possessing mail-in ballots. Her case, along with charges against accused vote-harvesters Cynthia Lopez, 46, and, Norma Lopez, 50, is being heard in the Live Oak County courtroom of County Judge Jim Huff.

 

The charges, being pursued by the state Attorney General's office, are misdemeanors.


Mail-in voter fraud has prompted changes in election law, caused investigators from the AG’s office to comb South Texas and landed a number of people in court. Lawmakers have been urged to bolster the laws governing mail-in voting, but haven’t done so since 2003.

 

Most charges come out of South Texas, where generations of politiqueros, or political workers, such as Bueno have worked at getting out the vote for particular candidates.

 

In its simplest form, assisting others to vote, particularly the elderly and disabled, is not a crime.

 

But state law requires an assistant to co-sign the ballot envelope, and prohibits people from assisting more than one voter.

 

An assistant isn't allowed to possess the voters' ballots in most situations - the law is designed so that the voter, not a political worker, sees to it that the ballot is mailed. Bueno was charged with violating this rule.


***

 

 

Bueno lives in a small wood-frame house with her children, three sons and two daughters, ages 22 to 38. The house is a rental, $569 a month, about a 15-minute walk from downtown Alice.

 

Bueno lives on Social Security benefits of $695 per month plus $173 a month in food stamps, court documents show.

 

If it’s not a comfortable living, it’s cozy and familial, and on a recent Friday afternoon, cars came and went and the place buzzed of activity.

 

To earn extra money each spring, Bueno followed a blueprint laid out by generations of politiqueros in South Texas. It is a living she has renounced given her legal trouble.

 

Candidates begin to announce the fall before a March primary, and also begin choosing a team to help harvest votes. The workers are often listed on campaign finance reports as canvassers, and sometimes as employees.

 

After Bueno found several candidates up and down the ballot to work for, the rush was on for the blank mail-in ballot applications, which the elections administrator is legally obligated to provide to anyone in whatever quantity they desire.

 

“They know the money is there, and the more cards (you) take, the more money you get,” Bueno said.

 

She said the going rate is $150 for the successful return of 50 mail-in ballot applications.

 

Politiqueras might request up to 300 applications each, she said, then the candidates pay for the stamps, and the applications are mailed to the voters.

 

That's where Bueno's willingness to pound the pavement, and sweet-talk some voters, came in, as Bueno made her rounds to the voters' homes.

 

As part of her paid work, “I have to push [the candidates], you’ve got to push their name," she said.

 

“I can’t tell them who to vote for. I will go to you, and you don’t know how to write or read," she said. So Bueno tells the voter who she's helping.

 

Do the voters ask for suggestions?

 

“Yes, they do, but I vote for the one I want, the one I am helping,” Bueno said. “But I am not going to write your ballot, I want you to tell me which one you want. ... You tell me, ‘I don’t know that lady, but I know (the other candidate), he has been in Alice for a long time, and I say ‘you are sure that’s right.' " They say ‘yes,’ I put [the ballot] in the envelope, and nobody knows but me, you.”


Continues: How Bueno got into her line of work, and how investigators closed in on her. On Page 2.


Comments
Stop Voter Fraud
Tuesday, 05/11/2010 - 11:14PM

The author misquotes the law. The law says you can not wittness more than one voter who cannot sign. The law also says you can assist as many people you like if you put are willing to put your name on the mail Ballot applicaton and/or Mail Ballot.

Trent Seibert, editor, Texas Watchdog
Wednesday, 05/12/2010 - 08:44AM

To us, the law seems pretty clear:

§ 84.004. UNLAWFULLY WITNESSING APPLICATION FOR MORE THAN ONE APPLICANT. (a) A person commits an offense if, in the same election, the person signs an early voting ballot application as a witness for more than one applicant.

If you have additional information or another statute with conflicting information, please let us know here or shoot me an email: trent@texaswatchdog.org

Assisting People to Vote is "Fraud?"
Wednesday, 05/26/2010 - 10:25PM

Wow! Texaswatch has taken the definition of "fraud" to a whole new level. God forbid someone help old people who can't get to the polls to vote. This is the best you got, Texaswatch, on the "pervasive voter fraud" in South Texas? You guys are a joke! It would be funny if the AG wasn't wasting our precious tax dollars on prosecuting people for this nonsense. Sounds like a great opportunity for jury nullification to me!

Trent Seibert, editor, Texas Watchdog
Thursday, 05/27/2010 - 07:39AM

Dear Assisting People to Vote is "Fraud?",

Thanks for reading us and taking the time to write in.

This kind of activity, is, indeed, against the law and is a major problem throughout South Texas and elsewhere according to the many elections officials that we interviewed.

I refer you to my last comment here and also wanted to make sure you've see our other work on voter fraud. I've posted a some links below.

Again, Thanks!

Trent

Voter fraud persists in South Texas as enforcement efforts fail

Mail-in ballot measures haven't topped lawmakers' list of priorities for voting legislation

First-hand stories from South Texas' struggle to curb pervasive voter fraud

NH Gonzalez
Sunday, 06/20/2010 - 03:23PM

I just discovered this site and feel compelled to answer the comment from the person that finds it laughable that the Tex Watchdog is pursuing Mail-in balloting fraud. You may not be aware of the whole story!

1. Canvassers (or politiqueras) mostly are crooks(there are rare legitimate ones!)who work for a handler. The Handler is the person or persons indirectly hired by the politician or his puppeteer! Politiqueras are assigned X # of names. Their job is to fill out mail-in applications. They are paid by the amount they fill out. Lots of times they fill them out without the voter being aware or even carry disabled on voters that are not. They make hundres of dollars. Than they go around picking up ballots (if they have not used their own address. Sometimes they go around stealing mail-in Ballots or help legitimate people fill them out and take them to change the ballot itself (8 to 10 seconds in the microwave unseals the envelope) for the candidate they are working for. They can easily make $100.00 per ballot because they will work for 3 or 4 candidates. If an individual has 100 mail-in ballots(remember the important thing is the CARRIER ENVELOPE which is #'d not the ballot itself)she stands to make $10,000.00 within a very short period of time! 1 to two months at Best!

The saddest part is that a great many politicians are very much involved, or are not involved but turn a blind eye to it. And no the Attorney General in my opinion is not wasting millions because all cases that I am aware of are filed as misdemeanors for appeasement purposes is my guess. Not even worth the trouble!

Terry
Tuesday, 05/22/2012 - 04:03PM

"I put them in my bag, I want to make sure nobody sees, you know, you're not supposed to do [this]," Bueno says. Then, she drops them off in the mail and leaves the post office quickly.

Trouble is, Bueno's line of work corrupts the vote and is against the law.

But Bueno says she didn't know that. After all, it was the candidates themselves who were giving her the instructions, she said.

"I would not have done it if I thought it was illegal," she said during a recent interview in her home in Alice. "~ If these are truly her words, then she can't even keep her story straight from one sentence to the next. So which is it...you did not know or you knew and that is why you scurried like a rat out of the Post Office? Sounds like a bunch of lies on her part regarding not knowing. She knew, but valued the money more than the integrity our nation's voting process. These people should be in Federal Prison serving as examples of how not to pervert our voting system. If you can't win on your own merits, then you don't deserve to represent the citizens of this state and certainly not our country.

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