Texas Needs Tougher Laws to Reel in Mail-in Vote Fraud

Let's face it. Mail-in ballot voting, a necessary and noble process, is vulnerable to fraud.So it's not surprising that a chiseler could be on the loose in West Dallas. Residents there have complained about receiving absentee ballots that they didn't request, raising the possibility that someone is casting votes for them."We ask that you devote additional resources to verify the integrity of each mail-in ballot in Dallas," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and state Rep. Eric Johnson said in a joint letter to the Dallas County Elections Department. "We look forward to hearing from you soon regarding your plan."A plan is what's needed to root out possible crimes, as well as encourage more voter participation. Lawmakers, elections experts and law enforcement officials, as they did 14 years ago, should develop new policies to stamp out corruption, even if it costs money and resources.Voter fraud, even with mail-in ballots, does not occur on a large scale. But in low-turnout elections, stealing just a few votes can be the difference between winning and losing."You have to have a conversation in order to prevent coercion and fraud," said former state Rep. Steve Wolens, who in 2003 sponsored legislation to overhaul the state's mail-in ballot system. "Then you tailor-make a new law that deals with abuse and opens up voting."Wolens has described seeing voter fraud up close, including shenanigans looking to beat his wife, Laura Miller, in a 2001 mayoral race.He infuriated some members of his party by working with then-Elections Commissioner Bruce Sherbet, Dallas County prosecutor Ben Stool and others to develop a law to curb mail-in ballot abuse.The law defined how a voter could receive a mail-in ballot application, set regulations for operatives helping voters and created penalties for offenders. The law also devised ways to track mail-in vote operatives, called "politiqueros" in Hispanic neighborhoods where absentee campaigns are aggressive. Agents now have to sign for mail-in ballot applications and when they assist voters."It put regulations in place where there were none," said Sherbet, now Collin County's elections administrator.The 2003 law was an excellent first step, but more action is needed to weed out the shysters and protect the electoral process.As Sherbet points out, the law forbids an agent from tampering with or improperly marking someone's absentee ballot.But most of the charges associated with violating the 2003 law are misdemeanors. Law enforcement officials have told lawmakers that they are unlikely to invest critical time and resources to chase mail-in vote abusers, when they will essentially get off with a stern look and the shake of a head.Former Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, tried to assist Wolens' effort from her perch in the Senate. She offered companion legislation that would have made felony penalties for an array of mail-in voter fraud. But the bill died in committee. Shapiro knew then that the law needed to be tougher in order to deter criminal activity.What's perplexing about mail-in ballot abuse is that it's so unnecessary. Absentee ballot laws are so liberal that they are hard to break and encourage aggressive campaigning.An operative can legally help a person get a ballot, drop that ballot in the mail and even tell the person how to vote, as long as it not while that person is marking the ballot.It's like giving a voter a ride to the polls and a barbecue sandwich. Just before the voter gets out the van, you remind them how to vote.It's not illegal, it's politics."You don't have to break the law to be effective," Sherbet said.  Continue reading...

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