Hotline Promoted Amid Texas Voter Fraud Concerns

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As more and more Texans turn to mail-in ballots to cast their votes in presidential elections, concerns continue to grow over how secure the process is.

The ballots — geared to make it possible for overseas residents, people in the military and senior citizens to make their vote count — are now at the heart of a growing controversy about voter fraud, even prompting an “integrity tip hotline,” because they allow people to vote from their homes without any ID or verification of identity.

State officials have been in Tarrant County investigating an issue with mail-in ballots from this year’s primary election, but some say the problem with these ballots goes deeper than that. At issue are concerns about “vote harvesting,” in which people fill out and return other people’s ballots.

“Vote harvesting, a form of voting which is largely unwatched, … [has been] growing in the last few cycles,” said Aaron Harris, a Republican political consultant from North Richland Hills who filed at least one complaint with the state citing election concerns in Tarrant County. “We are getting defeat handed to us in mail-in ballots and we aren’t even paying attention to that.”

Some say the ongoing investigation, and Harris’s separate complaints, are politically motivated; others say it’s addressing a practice that has been a problem for years.

Either way, Harris is promoting an “Election Integrity Tip Hotline” — 817-893-8502 — through which he’s offering up to a $5,000 reward for any election fraud-related tip that leads to a felony conviction, prompting concern among some Democrats who say such tips should instead go to election officials.

This is “a systematic and deliberate attempt to suppress votes in the Latino community, specifically attacking the elderly,” said state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth.

Mail-in ballots make up just a fraction of the ballots cast in recent presidential elections in Texas.

In the state’s 15 largest counties, fewer than 220,000 of the 3.4 million votes cast in November 2012 were mailed in, fewer than 125,000 of the 2.4 million votes cast in November 2004 were mailed in, state election records show.

“This is not a Republican or Democratic issue,” said Steve Maxwell, a former Tarrant County Democratic Party chairman. “Every single one of us has a duty to make sure voter fraud isn’t taking place.

“There’s a real question of whether fraud is going on,” he said. “If there is, I’m going to be the first to help weed it out.”

Early voting runs Oct. 24 to Nov. 4. Election Day is Nov. 8.

In Tarrant County, 17,835 ballots were returned by mail in November 2004. By November 2012, that number had grown to 33,631, local election records show.

Already, more than 34,000 mail-in ballots have been requested in Tarrant County this election, and there’s still more than a week to go until the Oct. 28 deadline to request such a ballot, records show.

Some fear local complaints about mail-in ballots come at a time where they might intimidate some voters from casting ballots in this year’s presidential election — or just in time to lay the groundwork for the Legislature to enact more voting restrictions next year.

But voter fraud has become a common theme echoed even by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who even tweeted this week that there is “large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day.”

“They even want to try to rig the election at the polling booths and believe me there’s a lot going on,” he said during a recent Wisconsin rally. “Do you ever hear these people? They say ‘there’s nothing going on.’ People that have died 10 years ago are still voting, illegal immigrants are voting — I mean, where are the street smarts of some of these politicians?”

Others say these concerns are overrated.

“The fact is, … voter fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is nearly non-existent, and much of the problems associated with alleged fraud in elections relates to unintentional mistakes by voters or election administrators,” said Jessica Lavariega-Monforti, a political science professor at Pace University in New York City.

“Most allegations of fraud turn out to be baseless — and that of the few allegations remaining, most reveal election irregularities and other forms of election misconduct,” she said research shows.

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SOURCE: Star-Telegram
Anna M. Tinsley