Elections

Voter fraud in Texas? Tarrant County election documents sent to DA for investigation

Voters line up early on election day

On a rainy Election Day, a line began to form as early as 7 a.m. at Paschal High School as Fort Worth residents cast their votes.
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On a rainy Election Day, a line began to form as early as 7 a.m. at Paschal High School as Fort Worth residents cast their votes.

Tarrant County’s election department on Monday turned over 15 questionable affidavits signed by local voters who said they didn’t have a photo ID with them — but were allowed to vote in November anyway — for investigation by the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office.

At issue were the “reasonable impediment declaration” forms signed by local voters, many noting that they forgot or left their photo ID elsewhere and showed a different ID, such as a birth certificate or bank statement, to vote.

“There’s no legal requirement for us to send these over,” said Stephen Vickers, chief deputy elections administrator in Tarrant County. “We just didn’t want to sit on it or sweep it under the rug. The DA’s office may say there’s nothing to this.

“All we are doing is saying we saw something and asking if they can please investigate,” he said. “They’ll determine if it’s a criminal act.”

This comes as Justice Department officials under President Donald Trump’s leadership on Monday said they no will longer challenge Texas’ stringent Voter ID law.

Last year, when Democrat Barack Obama was in the White House, a federal court required last minute changes to soften the Texas Voter ID law that requires voters to show one of seven types of photo ID, ranging from a driver license to a passport.

The move was expected, but was met with outrage by plaintiffs and Democrats.

“It’s a complete 360,” Danielle Lang, of the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, told The Associated Press of the Justice Department decision. “We can’t make heads or tails of any factual reason for the change. There has been no new evidence that’s come to light.”

The state’s Voter ID law was approved by the Republican-led Texas Legislature in 2011, but remained tied up in the courts for years.

After the federal court order last year required Texas officials to ease up on the restrictions, the law still required those who had IDs to show them to vote.

But new forms were put at polling sites that allowed voters who had a “reasonable impediment” to getting a photo ID to sign them and show an alternate ID without a photo to cast a ballot.

Election official say there was little time to train election judges about using the documents.

“There was a lot of confusion,” Vickers said. “I don’t think there was a big criminal conspiracy to get around [showing ID to vote]. If that was the case, you’d see more of them [turned over].”

The Tarrant County District Attorney’s office did not respond to a Star-Telegram request for information about whether there will be an investigation into the documents given to them.

‘Reasonable impediment’

The “reasonable impediment declaration” requires a voter to list their name and indicate why they didn’t have a photo ID with them at the polls. Choices included that they didn’t have an ID because of lack of transportation, disability or illness, work schedule and family responsibilities.

They also had a box to check to list their own reason, where several wrote in that they forgot their ID.

The document also has a place for election judges to mark what type of alternate ID each of those voters did show, such as a current utility bill or paycheck.

An Associated Press study of more than 13,000 affidavits submitted in Texas’s biggest counties showed that at least 500 voters across the state indicated they had an ID but didn’t show it. Instead they signed this form, showed a different form of ID, and were allowed to vote.

That review noted that questionable affidavits were found in more than 20 Texas counties.

In Tarrant County, there were 15 cases of local voters who left their ID at home or forgot it and voted anyway.

In Tarrant County, there were 15 cases of local voters, most who “said they left their ID at home or forgot it, that it was unavailable,” Vickers said. “Most stated they forgot it at home or left it at work.”

Vickers stressed that there was very little time to train election judges about the document.

And he noted that the small number of affidavits turned over to the DA’s office are just a fraction of the votes cast in November’s general election that drew a record number of local voters to the polls. In November, 682,740 of the 1 million registered Tarrant County voters — 62.8 percent — went to the polls, local election records show.

“We found [15] out of how many hundreds of thousands that voted in November? That’s a tiny, tiny percent,” Vickers said.

Voter fraud?

It’s not uncommon for the Tarrant County elections office to turn questionable information over to the DA’s office, Vickers said.

After nearly every election, workers turn over a list of duplicate voters, people who were believed to have tried to vote more than once.

In January, the Tarrant County elections office gave a list of 13 potential duplicate voters to the District Attorney’s office.

In January, they gave a list of 13 potential duplicate voters to the District Attorney’s office, Vickers said.

Most of these cases don’t show a true intent of people to cast multiple votes, but generally are elderly voters who may have voted by mail and forgotten they did, so they tried to vote in person.

“A lot of times we find out there’s no criminal act there,” Vickers said,

All of this comes on the heels of a Grand Prairie woman receiving a sentence of eight years in prison for voting illegally. A Tarrant County jury found Rosa Maria Ortega, a 37-year-old mother of four who has a green card, guilty of voting in Dallas County in the 2012 general election and the 2014 Republican primary runoff.

Her sentence, and expected deportation after it’s over, drew nationwide attention as some questioned whether the sentence was too harsh. Ortega initially had been offered two years probation, but turned it down because it likely would have meant she would be deported.

At least one other case of voter fraud is under investigation in Tarrant County.

The separate investigation focuses on mail-in ballots, which allow people to vote from their homes without any ID or verification of identity. At issue is how often people assist others, or physically help by witnessing, with filling out applications for mail-in ballots or the ballots themselves.

Local officials say workers with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office have been in Tarrant County gathering paperwork and interviewing potential witnesses. The attorney general’s office has declined to “confirm or deny investigations” or comment on the situation.

When asked for the complaints that started the local investigation, attorney general’s workers declined to release them, expressing concern that doing so might hamper a criminal investigation.

Top Texas Republicans — including Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton — have both said voter fraud is real.

After the Ortega ruling, Abbott tweeted out a message.

“In Texas, you will pay a price for voter fraud,” he posted on Twitter.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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