Tuesday, Jul 13, 2010, 09:00PM CST
By Steve Miller
A group of election administrators from South Texas will invite state lawmakers from their respective districts to attend an August roundtable discussion of voter fraud issues that have plagued their elections for years.
The group, along with colleagues from around the state, will be in Austin to attend the annual state election law seminar presented by the Texas Secretary of State.
“It’s the chance we can take to get someone interested in reform or getting us some kind of help,” said Rudy Montalvo from Starr County, one of the 10 election officials.
Invitations have not yet been issued, he added, and noted that in the past, legislators have shown little interest in looking at voter fraud issues in South Texas.
Case in point: The state Senate Committee on State Affairs meets Wednesday to discuss voting issues. But like its House counterpart, mail-in ballot voter fraud, the most prevalent form of election malfeasance, will not be discussed.
Instead, the nine-member panel will study ways to improve the efficiency and accuracy of voter rolls and discuss the military absentee voting process.
The House elections committee, which has noted in its annual pre-session report that mail-in ballot fraud needs to be addressed by lawmakers, met last month and announced that it would continue to pursue a bill requiring all voters to produce valid government identification before casting a ballot in person.
Voters and officials discouraged by the free reign held by vote harvesters, or politiqueras, have mostly given up asking Austin for help.
It’s been seven years since Democratic State Rep. Steve Wolens helped pass legislation addressing mail-in ballot fraud via his House Bill 54. The measure set out penalties for appropriating ballots and otherwise abusing the mail-in voter process.
The law provides a misdemeanor penalty for most crimes related to mail-in balloting, but the majority of convictions result in plea bargains with no jail time.
“I know that my party, the Democratic Party, is not interested in fixing this,” said Ruben Peña, who lost a race for a Cameron County commission spot in an April primary. He blames mail-in ballot fraud and the work of vote harvesters, and points to the fact that while he won the early voting and election day balloting, he lost the mail-in contest.
He also lost a subsequent legal appeal, and the election was handed to his foe, Ernie L. Hernandez Jr.
“This use of mail-in ballots is how Democrats in this area mobilize votes,” Peña said. “I would never approach a legislator from here on this. I would be wasting my time. I would have better luck approaching a Republican from the north or the east part of the state without ties to this area.”
Vote harvesters are individuals who shepherd mail-in ballots, which are used mostly by elderly voters who cannot get to the polls. In some cases, the politiqueras, paid by a group of like-minded candidates, come to the home of the voter, encouraging the voter to cast a ballot for particular candidates, then take the ballot to the mailbox.
Influencing a vote and possessing the ballot of another person are both misdemeanors.
Taking their case to Austin is perhaps the last resort of officials and individuals who are exasperated by the continued influence of politiqueras. In some cases, these election workers have been linked to state officials, making reform difficult.
“When I came to office in 2003, Steve Wolens had a reform bill, and that really, in our opinion at the time, took care of a lot of the issues we had heard about,” said State Rep. Ryan Guillen, whose District 31 includes Starr and Duval counties, which have been marred in recent years by mail-in voter fraud convictions.
“But going down the road almost eight years now, I would have to say I am not sure what the fix is. I have a feeling when we meet with these folks in August and on into the session, the question is going to be asked, ‘Are there teeth in this law?’”
Guillen, a Democrat, looks at the prevailing election issue of voter ID and ventures that mail-in ballot fraud may be an issue that will unite along partisan lines.
“Voter ID has turned into such a partisan issue,” he said. “But there are areas in which we can agree, and I think as [voter ID] becomes more partisan and more divided, Austin will start looking for an area of common ground. Maybe this is it.”
Steve Miller has written extensively on the problem of mail-in ballot fraud in South Texas. Find all his reports by searching VOTER FRAUD at www.texaswatchdog.org. Call 832-303-9420 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo of a movie marquee by flickr user Lexinatrix, used via a Creative Commons license.