in Houston, Texas
Bill requires state to collect more data on for-profit schools
Friday, Jun 10, 2011, 02:34PM CST
By Kevin Lee
graduation cap

For-profit and career colleges located in Texas would be subject to the same data collection and transparency standards that state universities and colleges are held to under Senate Bill 1534 awaiting the governor’s signature, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

SB 1534 would require the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to include those trade schools on its online accountability system, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which reported on the legislation this Thursday. Currently, the system records information like graduation rates and research spending for state universities, state health institutions, state colleges, state technical colleges and community colleges. The bill also requires for-profit schools to post to their websites the names of any regulatory agencies that oversee them, and the process for filing complaints.

Bill sponsor state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said the new rules would help protect students:

Students "were getting stuck between a rock and hard place," Shapiro said, explaining how she was moved to act after watching a news report about investigations into for-profit schools. "There was nobody paying attention."

WFAA-TV in Dallas reported last year about a chain of for-profit trade colleges called ATI, whose students complained that they were promised well-paying jobs in fields such as welding and maintenance but were left with thousands of dollars in debt and dim job prospects. The Texas Workforce Commission later announced it had found ATI to be in violation of state rules governing job placement, the station reported this April. The state cut off a stream of state funding to the school and required the for-profit college system to submit records electronically and hire a third-party auditor to verify job placement numbers.

ATI and other trade schools and for-profits lobby Austin through their Career Colleges and Schools of Texas PAC, which has donated $12,000 to Gov. Rick Perry since 2000, as well as a number of mostly Republican lawmakers.

The federal government has clamped down on for-profit schools, which siphon off billions of dollars in taxpayer money through federal grants.

Institutions that provide career training programs would have to comply with new rules aimed at keeping student debt in check and finalized by the U.S. Department of Education last week or lose federal funding.

While the regulations would be applied to certificate programs across-the-board, the federal agency noted that while students at for-profit schools represent 12 percent of all higher education students, they represent 46 percent of all student loan dollars in default.

In 2009, for-profit college systems received $24 billion in federal support while their admission rates continue to swell, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last summer.

The GAO sent undercover applicants to 15 for-profit college systems to study admission standards. At four schools, school staff encouraged undercover applicants to provide false information in order to qualify for financial aid, the GAO said. The applicants also observed school personnel providing unclear information on fundamental matters such as tuition costs, program duration and graduation rates.

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Texas voter fraud bills face end of session, South Texas lawmaker remains optimistic
Tuesday, May 17, 2011, 04:21PM CST
By Steve Miller

State Rep. Aaron Peña arrived in Austin for the 82nd Legislative Session ready to combat the pervasive practice of voter fraud in South Texas. Armed with a batch of bills addressing the problem, Peña’s endeavor was the first comprehensive effort to stem problems with the mail-in ballot process since state Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, pushed through a bill that increased legal penalties for voter fraud activities in 2003.


Peña, R-Edinburg, filed a series of bills addressing assisted voting crimes, and the fraudulent filing of another voter’s ballot. Texas Watchdog has documented this problem among voter assistants, or politiqueras as they are called in South Texas, who are paid by the ballot to harvest votes.

None of Peña's bills have made it to the House floor, and time is about out. But Peña is bullish on his chances.

Nicole PerezPEÑA

“These bills are not dead yet,” Peña said Tuesday. “I believe that there are still vehicles for them to find passage.”

He could attach them to other bills, a procedural move that would almost guarantee passage if connected to the right bill. 


But once in the Senate, he would have to find someone to carry them, a process his office is engaged in right now.


Among the bills that could see the light of day through that method:

  • House Bill 2051, which would require anyone assisting a voter at the polls to attest that he or she is not that voter’s employer or part of any group that employs the voter, is awaiting a House vote.
  • House Bill 2058, which would make it a criminal offense to fill out another person’s mail-in ballot application in the presence of the voter, other than as a legal witness, never made it to a House vote. Current law makes that a crime only in the presence of the applicant.

Some of Peña’s bills were clear misses, never garnering the support he needed. Among those:

  • House Bill 2057, which amended the penal code to include conspiracy to interfere with an election with other, existing crimes, never got a reading after its introduction.
  • House Bill 304, which would require anyone assisting a voter at the polls to provide a photo ID and to be a registered voter in that county.  It never made it out of committee.
  • House Bill 2059, which would make it a state jail crime, rather than the current class A misdemeanor, for a person to fail to return a voter registration application to the voter registrar. It never made it to committee.

Still, Peña said the session has been successful for him. He points to House Bill 2052, which forces county voting registrars to check their voter rolls each quarter for dead voters -- a problem Texas Watchdog has tracked -- rather than the vague current requirements of “periodically.” It has been approved by the House.


“Most of the bills I have wanted have passed,” Peña said. “Some of this stuff, like the dead voters, is just common sense stuff, and I trust both the Democrats and Republicans on the Senate side will do what’s right.”


Meanwhile, state Rep. Jose Aliseda, who also hails from South Texas, has had good luck with at least one major voter fraud bill.


House Bill 2449 passed the House 112-16 on Friday and heads for the Senate. The bill would make illegal possession of one mail-in ballot a single crime, with each additional ballot held constituting a separate crime. Under current law, a person could be holding several fraudulent ballots but be charged with a single crime.


In a March hearing, Aliseda, R-Beeville, explained his logic on the bill, saying “what we are trying to do is catch them in a scheme where they are perhaps deliberately trying to avoid the felony penalty by carrying less than 20 at a time. … I can see how someone could avoid prosecution for a felony by being careful of how many ballots a day they collect.”


Like Peña, Aliseda filed a number of voter fraud bills that went nowhere, ending up sitting in committee or getting through but having little chance of a full House vote.


House Bill 3448 would have made clearer the requirements for mail-in balloting, which some voters have abused by, for example, falsely claiming a disability. It never made it to the House floor.


Aliseda did not return two e-mails requesting comment.


Little was done on the Senate side, but two bills addressing the particulars of voter fraud passed. It's not clear whether the proposals will see a House vote.


Vote harvesters use the records of requests for mail-in ballots in deciding which voters to target. The list of often elderly or infirm applicants becomes a map for their door-to-door work.


Aimed at this problem is Senate Bill  997, which would make a mail-in ballot application unavailable to the general public until one day after the election. The bill, by state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, sailed through the Senate in early April, 31-0.


Senate Bill 1302 would make it a Class A misdemeanor to pay people based on the number of people they assisted to vote, to present a person with a quota of voters to assist in order to be paid, or to accept money to assist people to vote. The bill, authored by Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Mesquite, passed the Senate last month.



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Bills to curb mail-in ballot fraud get hearing; absentee ballot fraud 'largest growing fraud' in Texas: Rep. Aaron Peña
Tuesday, Mar 29, 2011, 02:22PM CST
By Steve Miller

The House Elections Committee on Monday heard bills addressing absentee ballot fraud, measures aimed at reforming the mail-in ballot process in the state and making it tougher for individuals to alter election results.


“Assisted voter fraud is the largest growing fraud that we have,” state Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, told the committee. “It’s an outgrowth of the old boss system, and it has never really stopped.”


Peña has filed more than two dozens bills addressing voting laws, noting that the work of vote harvesters known as politiqueras is endemic to his South Texas region.


The committee heard his House Bill 2051, which would change the state election code to ensure that someone assisting a voter is not that voter’s employer, in order to stem possible influence on a vote. Under the bill, an assistant would be required to assert under oath that he or she is not an employer or agent of the employer before assisting the voter.


Another bill would make it easier for law enforcement to pursue felony charges for possessing ballots. Vote harvesters often take the ballots of those they have assisted to the post office.


Current law makes it a misdemeanor to possess 10 to 19 ballots, a felony to possess 20 or more. House Bill 2449, filed by Rep. Jose Aliseda, would allow authorities to consider ballot possession over the course of days to boost the penalty, rather than doling out smaller charges piecemeal.

Jose AlisedaALISEDA

“Just so you understand, these people, especially in South Texas, are often getting paid to collect these mail-in ballots,” Aliseda, R-Beeville, told the committee. “What we are trying to do is catch them in a scheme where they are perhaps deliberately trying to avoid the felony penalty by carrying less than 20 at a time. ... I can see how someone could avoid prosecution for a felony by being careful of how many ballots a day they collect.”

He said collecting ballots is enabled by county clerks, post office employees and even election administrators in some counties, who work with vote harvesters.


“Most of this is done in the homes of people 65 and older, people that you would think are competent but they are getting help from these vote harvesters in order to, quote, cast the right ballot," Aliseda said.

Aaron PenaPEÑA

Peña’s House Bill 2058 would make it a crime for someone to complete a mail-in ballot application for another without signing the application as an assistant, regardless of whether that work is done in the presence of the voter or not. Current law does not require that witness signature on the application, though it does on the ballot itself.

“People are not signing the application when they are helping, and there is no limit on how many people you can assist,” said Special Assistant U.S. Attorney David Glicker of the Texas Attorney General's Office, who attended Monday’s hearing as a witness. 


Once vote harvesters learn who is getting a mail-in ballot, they go to that person, who is often elderly or infirm, and ask if they can help them prepare their ballot.


In some cases, advocates for tougher laws say, a ballot is simply removed from the mail before it reaches the voter, with the vote harvester filling it out.


Also on Monday, a Senate bill that would make a mail-in ballot application unavailable to the general public until one day after the election moved closer to passage.


Senate Bill 997, authored by state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, passed the Senate State Affairs Committee, 8-0, and next moves to the full Senate. 

Election administrators in South Texas for years have asked Austin for help in controlling the politiqueras, meeting separately last year to plan a strategy to address lawmakers. 

It worked, as officials like Peña and Shapiro have responded. But is it enough?


"These bills all touch on mail-in ballot fraud, but so far it's just bits and pieces," said Rudy Montalvo, election administrator in Starr County in South


Texas and a legislative liaison for the Texas Association of Elections Administrators. "So many of these bills, they all touch on part of the problem, which is fine. This is a much better effort, though, than in previous years, when there was no effort at all."


A year ago, Montalvo said that Austin doesn't care about the voter fraud problem in South Texas.


"Now, I'm happy someone is talking about it," he said. "And I'll take anything I can get."


More bills will be heard next week, Peña said.


Some of those bills would toughen penalties, while others would make it easer to detect patterns of abuse of the voting system and investigate those abuses.


While he does not yet have an ally in the Senate, Peña said he expects to be able to recruit a sponsor.


“I don’t know that I can get re-elected after this,” Peña said. “But this is what has to be done.”


Texas Watchdog has documented the problem of mail-in ballot fraud in South Texas. Here are some of the stories:


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Tougher penalties for mail-in ballot fraud up for debate Monday in Texas House committee
Monday, Mar 28, 2011, 12:48PM CST
By Steve Miller

Political workers found guilty of mail-in ballot fraud would face harsher punishment under bills proposed by Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, who is targeting the practice with more than two dozen bills, including several set for debate today in the House Elections Committee.

Stemming mail-in fraud -- an old and entrenched practice in South Texas that is arguably the most prevalent form of voter fraud in Texas -- doesn't have the political gleam of the recently passed voter ID legislation. But given the Republican majority in both chambers, Peña is optimistic at least a few of his measures will pass.


“Democrats will not compromise in this, and I know that because I was one,” he said. Peña changed his party affiliation shortly before the legislative session, and prior to that was known as a conservative-tilting Democrat.


“They benefit from the politiquera system in South Texas. They need it to be competitive in certain districts,” Peña said, referencing the ballot harvesters known as politiqueras. “People down here are addicted to the system."

Aaron PenaPEÑA

Peña has introduced 25 bills that touch on mail-in, absentee balloting. One, House Bill 2585, would increase penalties for illegally possessing ballots. Another, House Bill 2586, would raise the penalty for lying on a mail-in ballot application from a misdemeanor to a felony.

“These bills are aimed at enhancing penalties,” Peña said. “There is just no doubt that this activity is going on, and it needs a law to stop it.”


Peña is supported by a cadre of Republicans, and he said he expects much the same resistance from Democrats that was heard during the heated and partisan voter ID debate. A newly created House select committee, voter identification and voter fraud, is composed of three Democrats and six Republicans. 


On the Senate side, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, has introduced Senate Bill 997, which would prohibit anyone from inspecting mail-in ballot applications until after election day. Under current law, those applications are pored over by politiqueras, who visit the homes of those on the list under the auspices of assisting voters. The workers may pressure voters into casting ballots for the worker's candidates or fill out the ballot themselves to favor their candidates.


Shapiro's bill has been in committee since March 21. No hearing is scheduled. Shapiro did not return a call placed on Sunday.


During debate of the voter ID bill, Democrats reasoned that since mail-in ballot fraud was more prevalent in Texas, a policy aimed at in-person voting was misguided.


"If voter fraud is your purpose, why not a photo requirement for mail-in ballots?" state Sen, Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, asked during voter ID discussion in January. "Wouldn't you say there is more room for fraud with mail-in ballots?... Would you concede that there is more potential for mail-in ballot fraud than with someone showing up?"


Sen, Royce West, D-Dallas, also evoked absentee fraud during the debate, and noted the absence of legislation addressing that from the legislature as a whole.


“We’ve done nothing on that,” West said.


It’s been eight years since House Bill 54, the last far-reaching change in the law regarding absentee ballots. The law set out penalties for appropriating ballots and otherwise abusing the mail-in voter process.


Former state Rep. Steve Wolens, a Dallas Democrat, was its architect.


Peña voted for it then, as a Democrat.


“It was great legislation that even had bipartisan support," Peña said. And referring to Rep. Joe Pickett, the sole House Democrat to support voter ID, he said, "I think our friend from El Paso, on the voter ID measure, shows that stopping voter fraud is something everyone stands behind.”



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GOP-controlled Texas state House passed voter ID; bills aimed at curbing mail-in ballot fraud pending
Thursday, Mar 24, 2011, 11:01AM CST
By Steve Miller

House Republicans Wednesday night passed the voter ID legislation that state GOP leaders have embraced for years after 11 hours of amendments and arguments.

The policy, which requires voters to present photo identification at the polling place before voting, will cost $2 million to implement in 2012,when it would take effect.

The measure is expected to go to a formal House vote today, then moves to a combined chamber conference committee. The bill, like all measures affecting voting rights in Texas, faces federal scrutiny. If it passes that vetting, it becomes law in January.
If it is approved, the following forms of ID would be acceptable for voting purposes:
  • A driver's license or personal identification card issued by the Department of Public Safety that is current or no more than 60 days past its expiration date.
  • A U.S. military identification card, with photo, that is current or no more than 60 days past its expiration date.
  • A U.S. citizenship certificate that has a photograph.
  • A U.S. passport that is current or no more than 60 days past its expiration date.
  • A concealed handgun license issued by DPS that is current or no more than 60 days past its expiration date.
Voters who lack the required ID may cast a ballot provisionally and have six days to present a valid ID to officials.
While the bill addresses a potential voter fraud issue, according to its backers, it fails to address the more concrete and documented problem of mail-in ballot fraud that plagues elections in South Texas.
State Rep. Aaron Peña has introduced a number of House bills regarding the problem.
State Sen. Florence Shapiro earlier this month introduced a bill that would make it more difficult for the public to determine who files an application for a mail-in ballot.

Shapiro filed the bill with a statement:
Under current law, which passed during the 78th session, an individual can assist multiple voters who cast their ballots by mail, but must sign the envelope into which the voter places their ballot, as a record of who is offering assistance. The law is designed to curb activities by unscrupulous individuals who allegedly go to nursing homes, hospitals, other assisted living centers, and areas where people with language barriers live. They purportedly visit these places to help multiple voters cast their ballots; however, sometimes these individuals commit fraud either by marking ballots contrary to the wishes of the voters they are claiming to help or directing them how to vote.
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Texas state senators propose $389 million for textbooks -- hopefully those textbooks won't be warehoused like those in Irving
Monday, Mar 21, 2011, 09:41AM CST
By Lee Ann O'Neal

Texas would buy new textbooks, to the tune of $389 million, under a plan advanced Thursday in a Senate finance subcommittee that would also send an additional $5.6 billion to school districts, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

Committee chairwoman Sen. Florence Shapiro said initial budget proposals, which included no money for new books, would hinder students trying to prepare for standardized tests. Some science texts used in the schools are 12 years old, the Statesman
reported in February.

The plan falls short of the $500 million the State Board of Education has recommended spending on new books, but some critics, as the Houston Chronicle wrote Thursday, have questioned the logic of buying books when districts are looking to lay off teachers.

The Statesman notes:
It is not clear how the Senate would pay for the additional public education spending, given the no-new-taxes pledge from the Legislature's Republican majority.
However this all shakes out, Texas Watchdog hopes that any new books actually make it to the classrooms -- rather than being warehoused until they, too, are out of date.
Contact Lee Ann O’Neal at 713-980-9777 or

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Texas Watchdog examines voter fraud in South Texas; fraud is rampant, seldom prosecuted
Wednesday, Dec 29, 2010, 08:30AM CST
By Steve Miller
voting by mail

DEL RIO, Texas - In a courtroom here, Dora Gonzalez confessed.


She had intentionally hampered the voting process by mishandling more than 100 absentee ballots in the March 2 Democratic primary in Val Verde County. By 29 votes, her employer, County Commissioner Jesus Ortiz, had won the primary, effectively handing him re-election in this Democratic county. Challenger Gus Flores alleged voter fraud and sued.


A judge ruled in August that Gonzalez' activity on Ortiz' behalf was illegal and ordered a new primary. Under close scrutiny, the election was won by Flores with a 306-vote margin.


In many ways, the case is typical of voter fraud in South Texas: Many violators are not charged -- Gonzalez wasn't either --- because prosecutors complain the cases are hard to prove. When they are prosecuted, the penalties are so small they don't deter the crime. So, with payment as "get out the vote" workers for candidates, the vote harvesters continue to hijack absentee ballots by sending applications on behalf of voters, arriving on their doorstep as the ballots arrive and coaching their votes.


"It's almost like it's OK because it's always been done," said Rudy Montalvo, election administrator in Starr County, which hugs the Mexican border just northwest of McAllen. He's done battle with his own Dora Gonzalezes, to little avail.


"We've had four people indicted, and all of them got a plea bargain. And that's probation, usually," he said. "In the end, the hammer's not hard enough."

Gonzalez testified that she worked the March primary for a number of local candidates, as well as Congressman Ciro Rodriguez, Texas state Sen. Carlos Uresti and gubernatorial candidate Bill White. Since politiqueras' activity is marshaled through local party players, it is unlikely that anyone on White or Uresti's level would ever know of their work.

Gonzalez told the court that Ortiz had given her a stack of applications for mail-in ballots for potential voters and 100 stamps.


Many of those voters said in depositions that Gonzalez took their completed ballots. Most said that Gonzalez did not attempt to influence their votes, but others did. "She filled them out so I could sign, and then she took the envelope," one voter said.


And Gonzalez' reason for assisting these candidates and voters?


"Because I'm interested in my community, and I'm interested in having good people help the community," Gonzalez replied, according to an account in the Del Rio News Herald.



Florence ShapiroSHAPIRO

Shortly after Texas Watchdog began its series of stories on voter fraud in March, state Sen. Florence Shapiro said in an interview, “I will be filing legislation to deal with this.”

Now, with bills being pre-filed and the session’s January start just weeks away, Shapiro is vague as to just what can be done.


“We’ve talked a lot about it through another senator who wanted to do something about it,” Shapiro said, although she couldn’t recall the other senator’s name. “And other people in the senate are looking at filing some of these bills.”


But she declined to be specific or even support what she vowed to do earlier this year. It’s been the way of voter fraud in Texas, particularly in South Texas.


“In Austin, anyone from San Antonio and above thinks that this is the Wild West, so why pay attention,” said state Rep. Aaron Peña, whose District 40 takes in a large swath of the region. “They look back over 300 years of history, and they see that now they’re still doing the same thing with voting in South Texas.”


Steve WolensWOLENS
Voter fraud has been over the years inadvertently abetted by malaise or disinterest at the state lawmaker level. In some cases like Gonzalez', politiqueras have been linked to prominent state officeholders and candidates.

The most recent statewide effort to address mail-in ballot fraud, a 2003 bill by former Democratic state Rep. Steve Wolens, enhanced penalties for certain activities regarding mail-in ballots. 

“The first thing that happened when I put the bill out there is that people came out saying it would disenfranchise voters, like the elderly and the disabled,” Wolens said. “And my response was, ‘Poppycock. This is aimed at the illegal harvesting of voters by paid opportunists who were themselves disenfranchising the elderly and the disabled.'”


In 2005, Robert Talton, a staunch conservative Republican state representative from Pasadena, moved to one-up Wolens. His House bill would have barred anyone from assisting more than one voter in an election, with some provisional caveats for close family. The bill died in committee.




But the practice of vote harvesting has never relented. State law regarding the mail-in ballot is fairly simple: If a person is mailing in a ballot, as Gonzalez did, that person must sign the ballot.


"A person other than the voter who deposits the carrier envelope in the mail or with a common or contract carrier must provide the person's signature, printed name, and residence address on the reverse side of the envelope," the law says.


The rule for signing a ballot for someone else - the signer is called a witness - is also explicit:


"The witness must state on the document or paper the name, in printed form, of the person who cannot sign. ... The witness must affix the witness's own signature to the document or paper and state the witness's own name, in printed form, near the signature. The witness must also state the witness's residence address unless the witness is an election officer, in which case the witness must state the witness's official title."

Vote harvesters, who can assist voters legally, are entitled to as many ballots as they need or want, and can even request them at the Secretary of State’s website.


“They get the mail-in ballot, then the fraud comes in,” said Pam Hill, election administrator in San Patricio County. She’s been in office since January 2006, and the practice has grown since that time, she said.


The number of mail-in ballots cast varies wildly, depending on the contest, she said. "It could be 1,500 mail in ballots, or 100."


Hill and other election administrators from South Texas have been meeting informally for the past couple years to talk about voter fraud issues unique to the region. They hope to get support from lawmakers, but so far the group has had little luck. And to make things worse, two elected officials who attended a small conference with the election officials in Kingsville in August, Solomon Ortiz, Jr., and Abel Herrero, lost their re-election bids in November.


“We just aren’t sure what to do now,” said Roy Ruiz, election administrator in Kenedy County.


A legislative election committee report is due out at the start of the year and contains nothing about addressing mail-in ballot fraud, according to the committee's office. It will, though, contain plenty about the need for a voter ID measure that has failed in previous sessions. Several Republican lawmakers prefiled voter ID measures last month.




In the politiquera world, they are legends: names like Elvira Rios, Gloria Barajas, Cynthia Lopez, Dora Gonzalez and Zaida Bueno. For years, they have been known as the go-to people for South Texas candidates.These mostly female vote harvesters work the apartment complexes, the nursing homes and any other living areas for the elderly and disabled. The compensation varies, from a deal that gives them perhaps $1 per ballot to a wider-ranging proposal that could pay hundreds of dollars for supervising a team of politiqueras.


They are helping, most say, enabling a person to exercise his or her constitutional right to vote. Some like Gonzalez say they are volunteers and make no money, and are only in it for the good of the community. Others are documented as paid in campaign finance reports, sometimes by local district attorneys and judges -- the same officials who are responsible for determining if the vote-harvesting has crossed over into illegal activity.


Rene Guerra, district attorney in Hidalgo County, saw a grand jury hand up 43 counts of voter fraud on a number of individuals -- some who he admits may have helped him win elections -- in a massive 2005 case presented by the Texas Rangers. As the years went by, he dropped all but one of the cases. Nothing there, he said.

In a county that is legendary for its politiquera activity, Guerra said he has never been able to prove voter fraud.

“It’s almost impossible to prove that,” Guerra said. “If I pay you $10 or a hamburger to vote for Obama or Bush, and you go vote, how do you prove it?"

The witnesses to the crime don't help, either.


"As some dementia sets into the elderly block of voters they’re prone to contradict themselves in statements. It will be the killing shot for prosecution," he said.


The state Attorney General’s office has proclaimed war on people like those vote harvesters, though the office can only act when its assistance is requested by a local law enforcement agency. 


Still, the AG this year successfully wrapped up 10 cases of voter-related issues, including mail-in ballot fraud, and filed nine more cases that have not yet been heard. Bueno, who explained how voter fraud works in a Texas Watchdog story this year, pleaded guilty in June to one count of mishandling mail-in ballots along with two others in Jim Wells County. All those convicted received the same punishment: a year of probation, a 180-day suspended jail sentence, a $200 fine and 40 hours of community work.


Few ever get jail time, even with confessions.

“Nothing happens,” said Lucy Lopez, an alderman in Taft, Texas. “And so people get to the point where, why even say anything about it?”

Gus Flores, the county commissioner who pushed his case in Val Verde County, said the only way for him to disrupt the entrenched voter fraud system was to take it into a courtroom. It cost him tens of thousands of dollars, he said. “But that election was stolen from me, and we had to prove it."

Even the local Democratic party was against him, Flores said, and together with League of United Latin American Citizens tried to prevent the do-over election, saying the date of Sept. 25 did not allow adequate time for voter participation.


Diana Salgado, chair of the local Democratic party, said the judge's verdict enabling a new election "was a poor decision. ... There's much more to this story than was presented." She did not return a follow-up call.


“It never mattered,” Flores said. “They knew the election was wrong, but it’s the way its been done here for many years. And it reaches all the way to the top, the top officials.


“But in the end, we had a fair election. Finally."


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Photo of someone voting by mail by flickr user droob, used via a Creative Commons license.

Changes proposed for immigration, slaughter houses, Medicaid as Texas lawmakers 'pre-file' bills for 82nd legislative session
Tuesday, Nov 09, 2010, 04:52PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Capitol dome

When you sleep in a camp chair for two nights outside the locked door of the clerk of the state House of Representatives, I suppose you are entitled to set the theme for the first day of filing bills prior to the 82nd session of the Texas Legislature.

Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, was first in line when the clerk's office opened Monday morning and her bills left no doubt Riddle considers Texas residents who are not legalized American citizens the state's primary problem. Or as she refers to them in her bills, illegal aliens. Or non-immigrant aliens, as Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, refers to them in an entirely unrelated bill.

Call them whatever you will, but judging from a goodly number of the 379 bills and resolutions submitted on the first pre-filing day, dealing with these people swiftly, decisively and in myriad ways is a priority.

Symbolism aside, getting there first guarantees you not much more than a low bill number. It can be argued the first day of pre-filing is all symbolism. In 2009, legislators filed a total of 12,238 bills and resolutions, individually and jointly. They filed about 250 of those on the first day.

This year's pre-filing total suggests a theme lost in the Riddle razzle dazzle, the acceleration of bill filing inflation. If trends hold, the record year for pre-filing will almost certainly beget a record year for bill filing. The filing of bills is up more than 72 percent percent from the 7,108 pieces of legislative handiwork filed in 1991 compared to 2009, according to a wonderful and detailed graphic assembled by Texas Tribune.

When John Adams, one of our nation's founders, said we were to be a nation of laws and not of men, he had already recognized the capacity for elected officials to produce legislation faster than the citizenry could produce children.

Early filing of bills does not account for the differing work habits of the 150 state representatives and 31 senators. It's hard to deny that Riddle was a busy beaver, getting her work done far enough ahead to afford her Capitol camping trip, while many of her colleagues pre-filed no bills at all. Of the 37 newly elected representatives to the House, just four screwed up the courage to have legislation ready to file on the first day. Props to you, David Simpson, R-Longview; Charles Perry, R-Lubbock; Eric Johnson, D-Dallas and Van Taylor, R-Plano.

But you are veritable wastrels compared to Sen. Zaffirini, who filed 45 pieces of legislation, living up to her reputation as the hardest working lawmaker in Texas, and Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, who filed 30 on the first day.

Let's not let immigration, anti-immigration or immigration interface obscure the substance of other legislation filed on the first day. Among Raymond's filings is House Joint Resolution 34 asking that Texas support a Constitutional amendment for a balanced budget. Sen. Florence Shapiro, R- Plano, has her own Senate Joint Resolution 10 calling on Congress to convene to consider a balanced budget amendment.

Given that the Legislature got the Railroad Commission of Texas out of the railroad business altogether in 2005, it seems timely for Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, to file House Bill 173 nearly six years later changing the name of the commission to the Texas Oil and Gas Commission.

No one is likely to disagree that slaughterers ought to be kept at least 1,000 feet from our schools, but Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, is referring in House Bill 92 specifically to slaughtering businesses.

Bowing to heavy pressure from the Mason lobby, Rep. Sid Miller, R-Erath, has proposed that the state issue specialty license plates to Texas Masons, but only after consulting with those Masons.

Conspicuously absent from the first day's filing are the words "stimulus" or "recovery," in the sense of, the official site of what has been in Texas the controversial American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The words "tea party" also do not appear together in a search of bills, although their pairing is likely to have a big impact on this next session.

There are 11 bills that mention Medicaid, but none putting into motion the Tea Party-esque suggestion by Gov. Rick Perry that Texas no longer participate in the federal program as a way of dealing with what may be as much as a $25 billion state budget shortfall.

But there is still a lot of time for legislators to address these and many, many, many more issues. Or maybe there isn't. In what is sure to be a popular proposal, Rep. Raymond's House Joint Resolution 33 asks that the state Constitution be changed to allow the Legislature to meet every year, in even-numbered years to create and pass the budget and in-odd numbered years for everything else.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or


Photo of the Capitol dome in Austin by flickr user Manuel Delgado Tenorio, used via a Creative Commons license.
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