Amid the passage of controversial voter ID laws, this session Texas lawmakers also tackled a different form of voter fraud in a significantly less controversial manner. The Texas Legislature took steps to end voter fraud stemming from mail-in ballots. Senate Bill 5 passed the legislature and was signed into law on June 15. The law becomes effective on January 1, 2018. This law expands the definition of mail-in voter fraud and increases the penalties for the crime. Several voter fraud cases were prosecuted in recent years, and there have been concerns from individuals who received mail-in ballots they never requested.
Keeping Texas elections secure: that’s the goal of a new measure lawmakers passed during the special session. But the law has the side effect of repealing a measure meant to make it easier for senior citizens to vote. “The primary purpose of the bill was to address some of the issues with voting by mail,” said Texas Secretary of State Interim Legal Director Caroline Geppert. “That tends to be the area here in Texas where we see more complaints of possible fraud or alleged fraud.” The new law, passed during the special legislative session, increases fines and penalties for tampering with ballots or voting fraudulently.
Buried in the state attorney’s recent memo about voter fraud in a 2016 primary election were a few lines that left political observers scratching their heads: Collecting absentee ballots, it said, is illegal. For years, local campaigns and organizations have gone door to door collecting people’s vote-by-mail ballots to deliver to election headquarters, with the assumption that as long as they weren’t being paid to do it, it was legal. That apparently is no longer the case, adding confusion to one of the more bizarre elements of Florida’s already vague absentee ballot laws and potentially exposing well-meaning volunteers to first-degree misdemeanor charges. A spokesman for Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said the office is offering no opinion beyond what was in its memo, which states, several times: “It is a crime for non-official election personnel to be in possession of any absentee ballots.”
The goal of a special legislative session is usually for Texas lawmakers to get stuff done that they didn’t, or couldn’t, during the regular session. But, during the 30-day session ending this week, though, lawmakers worked to undo something they passed just a few months prior: a bipartisan effort to curb mail-in ballot fraud in nursing homes. State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, says she and Republicans in the Texas Legislature were mostly on the same page about tackling this problem at the outset of the regular session.
The Texas Senate on Friday voted 21–10 to approve a House-amended version of Senate Bill 5, a measure that broadens the definition of mail-in voter fraud and ups the penalties for those who commit it. Since it was first passed in the Senate earlier this summer, the bill has been altered to repeal a nursing home voting provision that Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law. That law, House Bill 658, would have created a process for collecting absentee ballots at thousands of Texas nursing homes, effectively turning those facilities into temporary polling places during early voting to discourage voter manipulation. The proposal now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature or veto. According to state Rep. Tom Oliverson — who championed the nursing home law — Abbott’s office now supports repealing it, just months after he signed it and praised it on Twitter as “a bi-partisan effort targeting voter fraud at nursing homes.” Abbott’s office has not returned requests for comment this week.
The Texas House approved a bill Thursday that would increase penalties for mail-in election crimes. Senate Bill 5 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, was approved by a vote of 92-39 despite vociferous opposition from House Democrats who spent hours on Wednesday trying to amend and kill the bill. The bill now heads back to the Senate where lawmakers can accept the changes the House made or appoint committees to hash out the differences before passing it along to Gov. Greg Abbott to sign into law. Abbott, who has promised to fight voter fraud, made it one of his priorities for the special legislative session. The issue received little attention during the regular session, despite being the primary way experts believe voter fraud occurs. But it gained traction after allegations of mail-in ballot fraud in West Dallas and Grand Prairie this spring.
Texas: House approves one crackdown on mail-in ballot fraud, but pushes repeal of another | The Texas Tribune
Two months ago, Texas lawmakers quietly did something rare in this statehouse: They sent Gov. Greg Abbott a bill designed to make voting easier for thousands of Texans. Abbott praised that effort and ultimately signed the legislation that, in a rare moment of bipartisanship, both Democrats and Republicans supported. Scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1, the law would overhaul balloting at nursing homes — an attempt to simultaneously remove opportunities to commit ballot fraud while expanding ballot access to nursing home residents. But on Wednesday, the Texas House voted to repeal the new law, which some Republicans dubbed a well-intentioned mistake. “It was an oversight that people missed,” said Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who led the repeal effort.
Texas: House Elections Committee approves several mail-in ballot fraud bills | Austin American-Statesman
The House Elections Committee on Monday voted 4-2 along party lines to approve Senate Bill 5, already cleared by the Senate. The bill by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, would require a signature verification process for early ballots, notification of rejected ones within a month after an election and a process for correcting errors. Punishment for committing mail-in voter fraud in some cases could reach $4,000 and up to a year in jail. Hancock and bill supporters have said the bill would protect the most vulnerable voters: seniors and people with disabilities. Democrats Celia Israel of Austin and Ron Reynolds of Missouri City voted no.
Even on issues where Republicans and Democrats agree on a problem, they differ on solutions. Case in point: mail-in ballot fraud. With the Texas Legislature midway through a special session, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say something should be done to better prevent, detect and punish people who abuse the mail-in ballot system and steal the votes of vulnerable seniors. But, Republican legislative proposals to do that have drawn little support from Democrats. Jonathan White, who works on voter fraud cases in the Texas Attorney General’s office, says the mail-in ballot is more of an honor system, and that’s why it gets abused. He says prosecutors like him need more tools to tackle the problem. … But where White sees voter fraud as a problem largely undetected and prosecuted, Myrna Perez from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University says the statistics are clear: Voter fraud is extremely rare, though it is more likely to happen through mail-in ballots than in person.
Texas: GOP ballot fraud bills focus on criminal penalties, but critics say more changes needed | Dallas Morning News
Texas lawmakers say the best way to combat mail-in voter fraud is to fine the heck out of offenders and toss them in jail. In response to a rash of absentee voter fraud in West Dallas, Grand Prairie and other parts of the state, the Republican-controlled Legislature is expected to approve bills during its special session that increase penalties for mail-in election crimes targeting the elderly. Misdemeanors will become felonies and low-level felonies would get an upgrade. The fines associated with the crimes also would increase. “Once we increase the penalties, including turning misdemeanors into felonies, our hope is we won’t be dealing with mail-ballot fraud anymore,” said Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth.
The Texas Senate tentatively approved a bill Wednesday aiming to crack down on mail-in ballot fraud, largely by beefing up criminal penalties — a response to voting irregularities in Dallas County. “Any attempt to scam the system,” said Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who authored Senate Bill 5, “must be addressed accordingly.” With a 21-10 vote, the chamber advanced the bill mostly along party lines. Several Democrats said they initially planned to back it, but they voted against the proposal due to a section that appeared to criminalize certain political discussions between family members “in the presence of” a mail-in ballot. “There is the possibility that a family member looking over my shoulder — saying you should vote for Sen. Van Taylor — that individual would be in violation of this section of the law,” said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. “I see this as a potential trap for senior citizens.”
Texas: Answering 5 Questions About Dallas’ Mail-In Ballot Investigation After the Runoffs | Dallas Observer
On Saturday afternoon, a couple of hours before the first results would be released in Dallas’ three City Council runoffs, the specter that had hung over Dallas municipal elections all spring reared its ugly head again. Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole announced that the vast majority of mail-in ballots cast in the runoff elections would be sequestered on election night, potentially putting the results of the three pivotal council contests in limbo until the votes could be verified. The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office filed paperwork Thursday to hold back any ballot with which the person voting received assistance until that ballot could be more closely examined.
Evidence in the marathon trial over alleged voter fraud in Paterson’s 2nd Ward election last year raised doubts about the validity of some of the mail-in ballots, according to the deputy state attorney general who is monitoring the case. In a 38-page legal brief, Deputy Attorney General Alan Stephens cited apparent violations in New Jersey’s vote-by-mail rules as well as instances in which people who were listed as voting through the mail-in process testified that they do not believe they cast ballots. But Stephens did not say whether he thought the problems were extensive enough to nullify a hotly contested election that Shahin Khalique won by a 1,401-1,381 margin over the incumbent, Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman.
By mid-October, Susan Halperin became concerned that she and her husband hadn’t received their absentee ballots in the mail. So Lawrence Halperin called the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Office to find out what was going on. He was stunned to learn their ballots had already been cast. Someone had stolen the Halperins’ ballots, faked their signatures and voted. “He was just floored,” said Susan Halperin, a registered Democrat. “To think that someone would actually steal my ballot and fill it out is creepy.” The Halperins, who live in the Spring Valley neighborhood of Altamonte Springs just south of State Road 436, weren’t the only victims. Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel said they were among five voters in three homes in Spring Valley whose absentee ballots were stolen and then fraudulently submitted with votes cast by someone else.
Florida: North Miami Beach leaders discuss steps to prevent voter fraud in elections | The Miami Herald
North Miami Beach officials want to avoid drama, confusion and voter-fraud issues that have plagued campaign seasons of the past. The last two municipal elections were tainted with soap-opera-style incidents that included accusations of death threats, campaign misdeeds and complaints about an incumbent mayor unfairly targeting opponents with code violations. “We don’t want to have the circus we had two years ago to happen again,” said council member Anthony DeFellipo at Tuesday’s council meeting. With four of the seven council seats up for grabs in the May 5 municipal elections, the council discussed efforts to fend off any confusion that could result in voter fraud or any unfavorable image of their city.
Voters going to the polls in Texas starting this week will have to show one of a few specific forms of photo ID under a controversial new law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court over the weekend. The Texas law — along with 15 other voter ID laws passed since 2010 — was billed as a way to prevent people from impersonating eligible voters at the polls. But voter ID laws don’t address what appears to be a more common source of voter fraud: mail-in absentee ballots. A FRONTLINE analysis of voting laws nationwide found that only six of the 31 states that require ID at the polls apply those standards to absentee voters, who are generally whiter and older than in-person voters. And two states with strict photo ID policies for in-person voters — Rhode Island and Georgia — have recently passed bills that allow anyone to mail in a ballot. Voter fraud generally rarely happens. When it does, election law experts say it happens more often through mail-in ballots than people impersonating eligible voters at the polls. An analysis by News21, a journalism project at Arizona State University, found 28 cases of voter fraud convictions since 2000. Of those, 14 percent involved absentee ballot fraud. Voter impersonation, the form of fraud that voter ID laws are designed to prevent, made up only 3.6 percent of those cases. (Other types included double voting, the most common form, at 25 percent, and felons voting when they were prohibited from doing so. But neither of those would be prevented by voter ID laws, either.)
The Elections Division of the Office of the County Clerk and the Kauai Police Department are investigating a possible case of voter fraud on Kauai. Officials had received an absentee ballot by mail, but the affirmation statement on the back of the return envelope wasn’t signed. When the voter was contacted for a signature, he informed officials that he had never received the ballot in the first place. “This recent event is of great concern to our office. We wish to note that the procedures we have in place to process absentee mail ballots were able to alert both the voter and our office of the situation,” said County Clerk Ricky Watanabe. “Fortunately, this appears to be an isolated case but we ask that anyone with information on this incident to please contact the Kauai Police Department.”
When it comes to the fight about voter fraud and voter suppression, how do you prove a negative? One key question in the battle over the legality of voter identification laws is whether such laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud and whether they suppress a lot of votes from eligible voters. Though the answer to the second question remains in considerable dispute, after Tuesday’s federal court decision striking down Wisconsin’s voter ID law, it is time for voter ID supporters to throw in the towel and admit state voter ID laws don’t prevent the kind of fraud they are supposedly targeted for. Federal Judge Lynn Adelman looked at the evidence from Wisconsin and reached a conclusion unsurprising to those of us who study how elections are run. “Virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin,” Adelman wrote, “and it is exceedingly unlikely that voter impersonation will become a problem in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future.” Wisconsin is not alone in lacking such evidence. When the United States Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of Indiana’s voter ID law in 2008, the state conceded there was no evidence, ever, of impersonation fraud in the entire state.
Nacivre Charles sat behind the wheel of a black 2008 Toyota Tundra in Miami late last year when police pulled him over. It was no routine traffic stop. The cops knew Charles, a 56-year-old political operative known as “Charlie,” was driving with a suspended license. Yet that’s not why they had been secretly trailing him. They were after evidence of attempted elections mischief. In the SUV, officers found numerous Miami-Dade County absentee-ballot request forms. The same day, investigators raided the private business office of Lucie Tondreau in connection with 60 unlawful absentee-ballot requests submitted online. The recently elected North Miami mayor had paid Charles to be her campaign treasurer.