Election Law In Texas Is Broken
“If democracy stands for the principle of one person one vote then ballot harvesting stands for the principle one person one hundred votes” – Prosecutor at the Attorney General’s Office.
If you take a moment to talk to those in charge of prosecuting the election code, you’ll quickly find out just how broken the election code is, as well as how hard it is to criminally convict one who is guilty of election fraud and ballot harvesting. Reform is needed in order to stop those who would seek to undermine our elections and disrespect those who have marched, protested and, more importantly, died for our right to vote.
A Broken Code
Currently, by way of example, the highest level offense available across harvesting offenses is a State Jail Felony for possession of more than 20 mail ballots under section 86.006. of the election code. Although that may sound tough, it only carries a maximum punishment of 180 days to 2 years in jail and a fine. (Sec. 12.35 of the Texas Penal Code)
A number of offences in the election code people would be alarmed to find out are simple misdemeanors. Below are just a few examples within the current code,
- Unlawful assistance without consent – Misdemeanor (Sec. 64.036)
- Unlawful Carrier Envelope Action by person other than the voter – Misdemeanor. (Sec. 86.0051)
- A person without expressed permission of the voter possesses 1 to 20 different ballots on them at the time – Misdemeanor. (Sec. 86.0051)
- Being paid by the number of ballots you collect (Quota) – Misdemeanor. (Sec. 86.0052)
This, gets to the heart of the problem. Prosecutors are not going to devote serious time and resources going after penalties that are only misdemeanors, and would more than likely not end in a conviction. And why would they?
By the way, the office of the attorney general only has 8 to 9 investigators for the entire State of Texas only 2 of which investigate election fraud.
One quirk in the election code is the requirement to prove the total number of ballots were in the harvester’s possession at one point in time, rather than the total number of ballots the harvester illegally harvested. To put another way, the code requires you to prove that someone was in possession of multiple ballots at one point in time, instead of over a period of time.
Through handwriting evidence, it can be proven that a single harvester possessed and filled out a certain number of the applications for a mail in ballot and the ballot packet that follows. However, the prosecutor may not be able to prove they had them all in their possession at a single moment in time, which they possibly did not. In others words – A harvester can steal 100 ballots so long as it’s not done all at once. What should be prosecutable is the total number, regardless of when the possession occurred.
Think about the effect of 100 votes in a small election. Or, the value of 100 voters’ voices in their governmental process being disenfranchised. That’s the real voter suppression.
In fact, there is a case this year with a vote harvester in possession of two Wal-Mart bags of ballots in South Texas 100-200 ballots, and the best prosecutors can do in this case is a State Jail Felony. Which, once again, only has a maximum punishment of 180 days to 2 years in jail.
Here’s the thing though, most cases end in deferred adjudication outcomes, which do not result in a final conviction.
According to the Texas Tribune, “since 2012 the AG’s office has received 360 allegations of voter fraud. Of those only 15 were convicted for elections violations”
These are some are hardest cases to get
Part of the reason so many of these cases don’t result in convictions is the offenders generally get plea bargains, deferred adjudication or simply confesses to lesser charges. Convictions are also hard to get because the victims in these cases are usually elderly. The victims frequently don’t have the capacity to remember, or are hindered sometimes because of diseases like Dementia or Alzheimer’s. When key witnesses aren’t able to testify, more often than not the harvesters and their ballot harvesting operation either go free or get a slap on the wrist with lesser charges.
With the current way the penalties are set up, prosecutors are only able to go after the low level operatives in these ballot harvesting operations. Without leverage, they lack the tools necessary to make these operations turn on one another. What’s needed is a blanket felony charge with anything to do with election fraud, that states such as Florida, New York, and even California have. This let’s people know we’re serious about tackling those who wish to steal people’s votes.
In voter impersonation cases – Those are when it’s 1 vote stolen for impersonating another, is a felony. In ballot harvesting cases, with multiple votes you’d have to go to each and every individual voter whose vote was stolen. Once again, very resource intensive for little to no payoff.
What we need is ballot harvesting Class A and B misdemeanors upgraded to felonies. This can help start to end mail-in fraud, county by county. The AG can plead the less offensive cases to misdemeanor convictions, which is far more than they have leverage to do now.
Given the magnitude of this issue, we must reform the election code to restore the integrity of the process.