Tuesday, June 15, 2010

GOP To Again Focus On Non-Existent Voter Impersonation Fraud In 2011

When the Texas legislature next convenes in January 2011 it should address the long list problems that Gov. Perry and the Conservative Republican legislative leadership has wrought for Texas. These problems include: But all these problems now plaguing Texas' families are NOT the priority for the Republican Party. No, passage of a government issued photo voter ID requirement will be the GOP's legislative priority for the 2011 Texas Legislative session, according to state Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, the chairman of the House Elections Committee, which met this week to hear invited testimony on what, if any, evidence has been found that would warrant Texas to require voters to present a photo ID before casting a ballot.

There have been 267 requests referred to the Texas Attorney General’s office to investigate voter fraud in Texas since 2002, according Jay Dyer, special assistant to Attorney General Greg Abbott, in testimony before the committee. Of those 267 referrals, only 35 have were deemed to have merit to proceed to prosecution.

Over 50 percent of the referred complaints are related to mail-in ballots, yet all of the efforts of Republican legislators during the past three sessions have been focused on voter ID impersonation fraud, even though the Texas Attorney General’s office has never been able to identify a case of in person voting ID impersonation fraud.

Five years ago Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott tapped a $1.4 million federal crime-fighting grant to establish a special voter fraud investigation unit in his office as he pledged to root out what he called an epidemic of voter fraud in Texas. Mr. Abbott found and prosecuted only 26 cases of election fraud – all against Democrats, and almost all involving vote by mail (VBM) ballots, a review by The Dallas Morning News showed. The VBM cases that Mr. Abbott's office pursued were mail ballots that were properly cast and no vote was changed – but people who assisted and transported VBM ballot carrier envelops to the mailbox for other voters were prosecuted. Under a 2003 Texas law, anyone who possesses another person's ballot and does not sign their name on the back of the ballot envelop is guilty of a misdemeanor. Depending on the number of ballots involved, the charge rises to a felony.

According to Texas election code, anyone other than the voter who requested the mail-in ballot isn't allowed to mark or possess the mail-in ballot, in most situations. The law provides that voters, in most situations, will privately and personally mark the mail-in ballot without assistance or coercion, either in person or by phone, then affix their signature, seal the marked ballot in the provided mail-in carrier envelop and personally deposit the carrier envelop into a mailbox. [§86.005] The only situation where assistance may be rendered to a VBM voter in marking his/her mail ballot [§86.010] is when a voter can not read the ballot or is physically unable to mark the ballot and therefore would be eligible to receive assistance, if voting in person at a polling place. [§64.031 / §64.032(c)] It a crime to assist or transport a voter's ballot to the mailbox, unless the assisting person writes his or her own name and address on the ballot carrier envelope. [§86.006 / §86.005 / §86.0051]

Of the 26 cases Mr. Abbott found and prosecuted in his $1.4 million investigation, 18 of the cases involved situations where a person allegedly helped voters and or carried voters' mail ballot envelop to the mailbox, but did not write their name on the ballot carrier envelop. Among those prosecuted were Willie Ray, a member of the Texarkana City Council, and her granddaughter, Jamillah Johnson. They helped homebound senior citizens get absentee ballots in the 2004 general election and later, after they'd been privately filled out, carried them to a mailbox. Both women pleaded guilty to mishandling the mail-in ballots, and they were fined $200 and given probation. Of eight indicted in Hidalgo County, the cases were eventually dismissed for lack of evidence. Just last April an Hidalgo County court-at-law judge dismissed charges against its last remaining defendant — a 73-year-old McAllen woman accused of illegally possessing the mail-in ballots of three voters without signing their carrier envelopes to say she assisted them. All 18 cases were similarly dispatched.

The remaining eight of the 26 cases involved ineligible voters or manufactured votes, according to a Dallas Morning News report. They include a woman who voted for her dead mother, another in which a Starr County man voted twice, three South Texas women who used false addresses to get voter registration cards for people who did not exist and a Refugio County commissioner who distributed vote by mail ballots to residents in a senior's community to mark in his presence.

Former state Rep. Steve Wolens Wolens (D-Dallas) introduced House Bill 54 in 2003 during the 78th Legislature, setting out penalties for appropriating ballots and other abuses of the mail-in voter process. Wolen's bill, which became law in September 2003, was the last substantial action passed addressing the vote by mail process.

In preparation for the convening of the 80th Legislature in 2007, the House Committee on Elections prepared a report that asserted, "most allegations of election fraud that appear in the news or result in indictments relate to early voting by mail ballots.” The report referred to an investigation taking place at the time in the tiny South Texas enclave of Duval County concerning a 2006 primary election in which half the ballots cast were mail-in. The election saw a 57 percent voter turnout, as opposed to 8 percent statewide.
The report concluded that lawmakers in the upcoming 80th Legislative session should "review the need to add, enhance or reassess the effectiveness of criminal penalties provided by the Election Code. The Legislature should provide educational assistance for prosecutors and election officials to improve understanding on criminal violations of the Election Code.” In the 80th Legislative session, though, two bills were introduced with the term “voter fraud” as part of the text. Neither mentioned mail-in ballots. Both dealt with voters' rights.
In January 2009, before the session of the 81st Legislature, another report was issued by the House Committee on Elections. Now the report had grown in size, from 62 pages two years before, to 161 pages:
It included an account from Starr County election administrator Rafael Montalvo, who told of a batch of 30-40 absentee mail-in ballots requested from a single address, and another stack of 278 mail-in ballots for which signatures did not match the ballot applications. Montalvo also brought up the "large problem" of politiqueras in his testimony to the committee:
“Mr. Montalvo said sometimes politiqueras receive $10 per voter and can make good money during [an] election period. The elderly targeted are individuals who do not get out much.”
Among the committee recommendations for 81st Legislative session lawmakers to address:
“The committee would like the 81st Legislature to take in consideration the recommendations offered by the sub-committee on mail-in ballot integrity. As agreed by the whole committee, there is mail-in ballot fraud and those issues do need to be addressed during the upcoming session. ... The problem Texas faces with politiqueras, or 'vote brokers,' is an issue needing to be addressed during the 81st session. Currently in Texas statute there are laws prohibiting the practice of vote buying and the coercion of votes. However, these prohibitions only apply to offenses conducted in direct relations between campaign workers and the voter. The committee believes the 81st Legislature should look into ways to prevent vote brokering, including revisions to current law and more effective enforcement.”
Lawmakers in the 81st Legislative session proposed two bills that broached the subject of mail-in ballot fraud, but neither HB-452 nor HB-3444 advanced past the committee process to the full legislature. The latter measure, sponsored by state Rep. Rafael Anchía, would have required anyone who assists more than five voters in an election to register as an “early voting assistant" and provide a phone number in addition to other information already required. The mail-in ballot plans took a back seat to a hotly debated voter ID bill, which would have mandated ID requirements for in-person voters.

In the case of several election-related bills, Linda Rogers, chair of the Burnet County Republican Party, was called to testify to lawmakers in Austin. She was a dogged supporter of the voter ID bill and concedes that the bill "probably" obscured other voting issues, including mail-in ballot fraud.

Look in your purse or wallet - other than your Driver's License, what current (unexpired) government-issued photo ID do you find? Do you find a U.S. passport? Maybe; a few people have passports. Some seniors may find a Veterans Identification or Armed Forces Identification Photo ID Card, but they do not have 'issued' and 'expires' dates. In Indiana many older veterans, who had stopped driving and let their Driver's License expire, tried to use their Veterans and Armed Forces Id Cards to vote in 2008. Even those veterans who have served our county were turned away because every government photo ID card they possessed were either expired or not dated.
So, if you are a senior citizen who has given up driving, or if you are poor and don't own a car, and therefore never bothered to get a government-issued photo ID Driver's License, you likely do not have any current government-issued photo ID.

And, if you can't drive a car to the state driver's license bureau or county elections office, where you must submit your original (or notarized copy) birth certificate, you can't get a government-issued photo ID card and you will not be allowed to vote in any election under the Texas Photo Voter Id law proposed by Republican lawmakers.
A Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law study (and many other studies) finds that as many as 11 percent of citizens, mostly the elderly, poor and minority American citizens, do not have a current, government-issued photo ID. Another academic study of the 2004 presidential election conducted for the bipartisan Federal Election Assistance Commission found that states with Voter ID laws had an overall turnout reduction of 3%, a figure that reached 5.7% among African Americans and 10% among Hispanics. Former Texas Republican Party Political Director Royal Masset estimated that a photo ID requirement would reduce Democratic turnout in Texans by 3%. That is a lot Texans who would be denied the right to vote in Texas!

During the Texas House Elections Committee debate in the voter photo ID law in the last legislative session Republican proponents of the law admitted there is no evidence of voter impersonation "fraud" in Texas. "We can't prove there is voter ID fraud. . . We may have a big voter impersonation problem we don't know about. I think we do," said Skipper Wallace, the Republican Party chairman of Lampasas County. [So, the bottom line Republican argument is they just have faith that Democrats are perpetrating voter ID fraud in Texas]

"This is a racial issue, make no mistake about it," said Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, in 2009. "This is about skimming enough minority votes so some people can't get elected." An estimated 25% of legal, registered voters in Texas are Hispanic and over the next 30 years 78% of Texas' population growth is projected to be Hispanic.

The success of Texas Democratic voter registration drives among minority, elderly and low income groups in 2008 threatens to tip the balance of power away from Republican candidates, if such growth in Democratic voting ranks continues. As the tide of Democratic voters continues to grow across Texas, a government issue photo voter ID requirement for in-person voting would be an effective way for Republicans to hold back the tide.

Consequently, the use of baseless "voter id fraud" allegations to promote voter photo ID legislation is a more urgent 2011 legislative session priority for Republicans, than focusing the on the long list of real problems plaguing Texas families.

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