AUSTIN -- When a Democratic candidate for precinct chairwoman in Tarrant County was charged with conspiring to arrange an illegal vote, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott jumped in and spread the word."Think voter fraud doesn't exist? Dem precinct chairwoman candidate indicted for voter fraud in Ft Worth," Abbott posted on his Twitter account May 1.It was an opportunity for Abbott to press his point that Texas' new law requiring voters to show photo identification should be enacted to protect election integrity. Opponents of the measure say that voter fraud is rare and that mandating a photo ID would keep thousands of Texans from voting."It puts so much of a burden on the voter," said state Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who was on the voter ID committee last year in the House. "The Republicans are more interested in making sure votes don't count."Abbott's office is locked in a dispute over the voter identification law with the Justice Department and a number of intervenors, including Veasey. A federal judicial panel in Washington, D.C., has scheduled a trial for July 9.Texas Republicans want the law, which legislators passed in 2011, to take effect in time for the Nov. 6 general election. Veasey said that to enact it so quickly would amount to "blatant, wholesale, 1960s-style discrimination."In March, the Justice Department prohibited Texas from moving forward with the law, saying it could harm minorities protected under the federal Voting Rights Act. Abbott, meanwhile, sued in federal court to try to fast-track the law.Critics of the law say that more than 600,000 registered voters in Texas would be harmed because they do not have a driver's license or state identification card and that those voters are disproportionately minority.The League of Women Voters of Texas said that the state already has low voter turnout and that requiring a photo ID would further reduce participation."We think the existing ID required in Texas is enough to ensure the ballot is secure," said Linda Krefting of Lubbock, a league vice president who has closely followed the voter ID legislation.Elusive numbersPinpointing how many cases of voter fraud have occurred is difficult. There's no centralized state tracking of voter fraud cases in Texas.Secretary of State Hope Andrade's office, the state's lead election agency, doesn't keep figures on voter fraud allegations, spokesman Rich Parsons said.Abbott has repeatedly said that evidence of voter fraud abounds in Texas, which has 13 million registered voters. His office lists 62 cases it has been involved with since 2005. Others prosecuted locally are not always reported to the attorney general, his spokeswoman Lauren Bean said.Thirteen cases cited by Abbott were resolved in 2010, six in 2011 and nine this year, including eight that were related. Not all were convictions; in some cases, the charge was dismissed or the defendant was acquitted.Convictions Abbott cited include a woman accused of submitting her dead mother's ballot, an activist charged with casting votes illegally for elderly people and a city council member accused of registering foreigners to vote.In the recent Fort Worth case, Hazel Woodard James, 40, was accused of arranging for her son to cast a ballot on behalf of his father. The father showed up to vote later that day, officials said.Opponents of the voter ID law say that even in the scattered cases of voter fraud, voter impersonation like what is alleged in Tarrant County rarely occurs. And despite multiple legislative hearings, Veasey said, he saw no proof that voter fraud is a pervasive problem."I just don't think that it's that widespread," he said.New rulesUnder the new law, which doesn't affect mail-in balloting, voters would have to present specific types of photo identification at the polls such as a driver's license, passport or concealed-handgun license. A work or college ID with a photo wouldn't be accepted.A free election ID certificate could be obtained from the Department of Public Safety, but opponents of the law say that going to a driver's license office that may be far away and providing the documents to get the ID costs money and places more hurdles in front of voters.It "becomes a poll tax because it comes at a cost," Krefting said.For the May 29 primaries, voters must present a voter registration card. In lieu of that, other types of nonphoto ID can be used.The Justice Department and the intervenors, including the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches, unsuccessfully sought last week to postpone the July 9 trial.They had said the state was too slow in producing information.Bean, Abbott's spokeswoman, said the Justice Department has been receiving information since summer and was simply trying to stall."The time for complaining is over and the time to get this matter decided is now," she said.
Charges and outcomes in cases handled by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Bexar County: Ester Sandoval Martinez-Moreno, accused of tampering with a government record in 2010 primary. Guilty plea.
Dallas and Rockwall counties: Delores McMillian, accused of attempted illegal voting in 2010 primary. Guilty plea.
Duval and Jim Wells counties: Regino Cantu Salinas, accused of illegal voting in 2008 primary. Guilty plea.
Hidalgo and Brooks counties: Reyna Almanza, accused of illegal voting/voter impersonation in 2009 school district election. Conviction by jury.
Smith County: Ronald Marsh, accused of illegal voting/ineligible voter in 2009 municipal and local-option election. Guilty plea and deferred adjudication.
Smith County: Ann Marie Marsh, accused of illegal voting/ineligible voter in 2009 municipal and local-option election. Charges dismissed.
Brazos County: Christine Thomas Shank, accused of unlawful assistance in 2010 general election. Guilty plea and deferred adjudication.
Dallas and Rockwall counties: Carlos Medrano, accused of illegal voting/ineligible voter in 2010 primary. Conviction in a trial by judge.
Dallas and Rockwall counties: Frank Medrano III, accused of perjury in connection with the 2010 primary. Acquitted in a trial by judge.
Dallas and Rockwall counties: Robert Edward Medrano, accusations included illegal voting/ineligible voter in 2010 primary. Charges dismissed.
Dallas and Rockwall counties: Rolando Medrano, accused of perjury in connection with the 2010 primary. Guilty plea.
Dallas and Rockwall counties: Raquel Medrano, accused of perjury, illegal voting/ineligible voter in 2010 primary. Charges dismissed.
Dallas and Rockwall counties: Erica Perez, accused of illegal voting/ineligible voter in 2010 primary. Acquitted in a trial by judge.
Dallas and Rockwall counties: Ricardo Medrano Sr., accusations included illegal voting/ineligible voter in 2010 primary. Acquitted in a trial by judge.
Dallas and Rockwall counties: Gilda Hernandez, accused of unlawful assistance, possession of a ballot in 2010 primary. Guilty plea and deferred adjudication.
Note: Convictions listed don't reflect any appeals. In some cases the alleged crime occurred in one county and prosecution in another. Cases do not include any handled solely by local prosecutors.
Source: Texas attorney general's office