Voter fraud is a term that you’ve probably seen and heard a lot lately. It was a hot topic in the last presidential campaign and continues to make headlines in North Texas. But what is voter fraud, how rampant it is, and when can it lead to criminal prosecution? In this article, we will break down voter fraud laws and answer common questions regarding voter fraud in Texas.
What is Voter Fraud?
Voter fraud is a catch-all phrase that refers to a variety of election-related offenses.
Generally speaking, “voter fraud” refers to illegal interference in voting, such as voter impersonation, ballot harvesting, vote buying, double voting or ineligible voting.
How Prevalent is Voter Fraud in Texas?
So far in 2018, the Texas Attorney General’s Office has prosecuted 33 defendants for a total of 97 election fraud violations. Between 2005 and 2017, the AG’s Office prosecuted 97 defendants for illegal voting or voter fraud. Most voter fraud accusations are referred to the Attorney General by the secretary of state’s office or local law enforcement agencies. That is out of more than 64 million votes cast, according to the Texas Secretary of State.
It is unclear how many cases are prosecuted locally, as no single agency keeps that information statewide. However, Tarrant County has had two high-profile voting fraud cases recently. Rosa Maria Ortega, a Mexican national with a green card, was convicted in 2017 and sentenced to eight years in prison for voting in the November 2012 election and in the May 2014 primary run-off. And earlier this year, Crystal Mason, who was on supervised release for tax fraud, was sentenced to five years in state prison after voting in the November 2016 presidential election. Texas law requires felons complete their sentence, including supervised release or parole, before they regain the right to vote.
What are the Most Common Charges Stemming from Voter Fraud in Texas?
One of the most common charges of voter fraud is “Illegal Voting,” which criminalizes voting by ineligible individuals, multiple voting or voting while impersonating another. According to the Texas Election Code 64.012, a person commits the offense of illegal voting if he or she:
- votes or attempts to vote in an election in which the person knows they are not eligible to vote;
- knowingly votes or attempts to vote more than once in an election;
- knowingly impersonates another person and votes or attempt to vote as the impersonated person; or
- knowingly marks or attempts to mark another person’s ballot without the consent of that person.
What is the punishment range for illegal voting in Texas?
What is Unlawful Assistance of a Voter?
Another common voter fraud charge is “Unlawful Assistance of a Voter,” which criminalizes assisting ineligible voters, acting against the will of a voter or suggesting to the voter how to vote.
According to Texas Election Code 64.036 (1)-(4), a person commits an offense if the person knowingly:
- provides assistance to a voter who is not eligible for assistance;
- while assisting a voter prepares the voter’s ballot in a way other than the way the voter directors or without direction from the voter;
- while assisting a voter suggests by word, sign, or gesture how the voter should vote; or
- provides assistance to a voter who has not requested assistance or selected the person to assist the voter.
What is the punishment range for Unlawful Assistance of a Voter?
Unlawful Assistance of a Voter is a Class A Misdemeanor.
Mail-in Ballot and Absentee Ballot Abuse
Texas law also criminalizes abuses with absentee and mail-in ballots. Section 86 of the Texas Election Code addresses the Conduct of Voting by Mail. It criminalizes:
- Possessing an official ballot or carrier envelope of another (Election Code 86.006);
- Failing to provide required information on the carrier envelope (Election Code 86.010);
- Unlawful carrier envelope action by person other than the voter (Election Code Section 86.0051);
- Possessing 1 to 20 (or more) ballots or carrier envelopes without voter consent (Election Code 86.006); and
- Being paid for ballot collection quotas (Election Code 86.0052).
What is the punishment for Mail-in Ballot and Absentee Ballot Abuse
Penalties for offenses under this section range from a Class A misdemeanor to a state jail felony.
What is Ballot Harvesting?
Ballot harvesting is the practice of illegally filling out and returning another person’s ballot in an effort to increase votes for the candidate of their choice. The offenders are sometimes political workers or “politqueros” who visit elderly or disabled voters. In order to “assist” them in the absentee or mail-in ballot process, they fill out the form for the voter, choosing their nominee and not the voter’s choice. Texas law criminalizes a broad range of activities associated with the absentee ballot process including possessing another person’s blank absentee ballot, providing assistance in absentee voting to someone who didn’t ask for it and witnessing more than one absentee ballot in an election.
In October 2018, the Texas Attorney General’s Office indicted four people on 30 felony counts of voter fraud. The defendants were allegedly paid to target elderly voters in certain north Fort Worth precincts in a scheme to general a large number of mail ballots for specific candidates in 2016.
What is the Voter ID Law in Texas?
In 2011, Texas passed one of the strictest Voter ID laws in the country, requiring people to present one of seven forms of ID to vote. A federal appeals court ruled that Texas was discriminatory against minorities and the poor. In the November election, people without ID were allowed to vote if they signed a sworn statement. Meanwhile, the debate regarding illegal voting rages on.