Texas State Rep. Aaron Peña plans legislation to curb mail-in ballot fraud
By Steve Miller
Twenty bills aimed at curbing endemic voter fraud in South Texas are coming from state Rep. Aaron Peña, the Hildalgo County Democrat-turned-Republican.
“And I want to file them all in a row,” said Peña, who changed parties in December, just prior to the convening of the 82nd state legislative session in January.
Peña has been outspoken on the prevalence of vote harvesting in South Texas, in which political workers are paid to go to the homes of mail-in ballot voters – those over 65 or otherwise shut in – and urge them to vote for certain candidates. Dozens of people have been prosecuted for appropriating ballots, taking them to the post office and placing stamps on them for another voter in violation of state law.
The bills currently being drafted will target that practice, Peña said.
One of his first moves as a Republican in Austin was to form the Hispanic Republican Conference, and he launched that with a promise to address voter fraud. He vowed at that time to attack voter fraud, and while he supports voter ID, he said it is not going to do much to stem voter fraud.
He told Texas Monthly in January, "If it makes us feel good to pass [voter ID], okay. … (but) It’s not the solution to the voter fraud that is out there."
“The Hispanic Republican Conference is going to play a large role in getting this through,” Peña told Texas Watchdog in an interview this week. “Most of us have to survive in this environment, and it is offensive to anyone who appreciates the rule of law. It is corrupting the moral fabric of the community and the political culture.”
Peña prefiled a bill in November that would require a precinct official to verify the identification of anyone assisting another voter at the polls and would limit the number of voters a person could assist to two per day. Current law does not require a helper to present ID. The bill would require an assistant to be a registered voter of the county in which the election is being held.
Texas Watchdog chronicled voter fraud in South Texas in a series of stories last year, and some state lawmakers, including state Sen. Florence Shapiro, vowed to look into it. But the focus so far this session has been on voter ID, which would not affect mail-in ballots, and Shapiro has been silent.
During a Senate committee discussion on the voter ID bill in January, state Sen. Rodney Ellis asked bill author Sen. Troy Fraser, "If voter fraud is your purpose, why not a photo requirement for mail-in ballots? Wouldn't you say there is more room for fraud with mail-in ballots?"
Thursday, 02/24/2011 - 07:01PM
THANKS to Rep. Pena for addressing the very real problem of voter fraud. (Those who cite the lack of prosecutions as proof that voter fraud doesn’t exist, need to recognize the difficulty of prosecuting someone who, by definition, has presented a false identity.)
Pena is correct that new Voter ID requirements alone won’t solve the problem. There are three main avenues of voter fraud: voter registration, in-person voting at the polls, and voting by mail. As Texas Watchdog has reported, VBM fraud is a well-documented problem in South Texas. By its nature, VBM is very vulnerable to fraud, but unfortunately a bill (SB-214) has already been filed to expand VBM. That would simply expand the problem.
So I welcome Rep. Pena’s legislation to strengthen Texas Election Code’s VBM provisions. Once Photo ID guidelines are set for in-person voting, they can also be applied to voter registration and voting by mail, along with stricter controls on VBM applications, limits on assistants, and stiffer penalties for fraudsters.
THANKS also to Texas Watchdog and Steve Miller for continuing to provide excellent in-depth reporting on this subject.
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