AUSTIN - Records dating back to the 2004 General Election point to consistent voting violations.
The KVUE Defenders found not all votes are legitimate. Many of the crimes happen where you feel safest.
Criminals exploited weaknesses in 31 counties, and some violations influenced a local win.
“This is our democracy,” said Mary Helen Flores who runs a non-profit group investigating voter misconduct.
Flores is a citizen who got fed-up with corruption in her home county: Cameron.
She launched investigations and turned over her leads to state and federal agents. The FBI brought crimes to some of the violators.
“Where you see high numbers of convictions, it’s because you see citizen engagement,” said Flores.
She pointed out a weakness in the voting system lies in mail-in ballots and voter assistance, using “vote harvesters.”
A vote harvester is someone hired by a candidate to get votes for his/her political position. The harvester visits people receiving mail-in ballots, typically elderly, to offer help.
“They know exactly when the mail-in ballots will come in; they will visit them,” said Carlos Cascos, Secretary of State.
Cascos said his focus this election has been to educate voters, especially about the Voter ID law.
The Secretary’s office collects complaints but doesn’t investigate. They pass them to the Attorney General. He spoke to the Defenders about the mail-in ballot issue because he has seen it first-hand.
“The elderly voters, unsuspectingly, trust these people who visit them on a regular basis. They take them sweet bread. They take them ice cream in order to gain their trust,” said Cascos.
Crimes prosecuted by the Attorney General range widely. The ones caught violating the law forged signatures, changed votes, and offered bribes. Some bribes included cash, cigarettes, even drugs.
People caught often get deferred adjudication, fined or prohibited from helping voters again. Punishment is rarely jail time.
“Oh, absolutely not. Not even a week” said Flores.
It’s a slap on wrist for many trying to rig an election.
The KVUE Defenders combed through the records of those caught violating the law. The criminals typically tried to influence local political seats like school board and city council.
“I don’t believe anyone from a national campaign or a statewide campaign goes down along the border or anywhere else and says I want you to get me 100 or 200 votes. It all starts at a local level,” said Cascos.
Flores wants tougher punishment. Travis County is not listed among the mail-in ballot or voter-assistance issues. The only law we found broken during an election in Travis County was back in 2008.
A voter used a fake identity. It’s the only time in the state this charge was filed.
If you suspect any illegal activity, file in two places: with your local election’s office and with the Secretary of State.
File a complaint here.
(© 2016 KVUE)