Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday officially reported that four suspects were indicted on numerous felony counts of voter fraud. The suspects were arrested during the ongoing investigation by the Election Fraud Unit of Paxton’s office. However, Democrats are not celebrating such arrests calling the case an example of overzealous police work.
Paxton has been charging a record number of people with committing voter fraud, an effort his critics condemn as a law enforcement campaign to discourage minority voters from casting ballots. “The truth is that the attorney general’s office is only trying to discourage non-citizens from voting,” said former prosecuting attorney Charles Simpson.
These four latest defendants – all members of an organized voter fraud ring – were paid to target elderly voters in certain Fort Worth precincts in a scheme to generate a large number of mail ballots, and then harvest those ballots for specific candidates during the 2016 elections.
“Ballots by mail are intended to make it easier for Texas seniors to vote. The unfortunate downside is their extreme vulnerability to fraud,” Attorney General Paxton said in a statement. “My office is committed to ensuring that paid vote harvesters who fraudulently generate mail ballots, stealing votes from seniors, are held accountable for their despicable actions and for the damage they inflict on the electoral process,” said Paxton, a long-time Republican.
The state’s newly filed notice of intent to introduce evidence in the criminal case alleged that Stuart Clegg, then Tarrant County Democratic Party executive director, funded the alleged voter fraud ring’s criminal activities.
The Star-Telegram added that “after learning about a state investigation, Leticia Sanchez — one of four women arrested and indicted on voter fraud charges — allegedly directed her daughter to send a text message to others in the scheme, urging them not to cooperate with investigators, state officials say.”
According to the Texas Attorney General’s communications officials, Leticia Sanchez was indicted on one count of illegal voting, a second-degree felony punishable by a prison term of two to 20 years, if convicted. All defendants in the case face state jail felony charges of providing false information on an application for a mail ballot – Sanchez (16 counts), Leticia Sanchez Tepichin (10 counts), Maria Solis (two counts) and Laura Parra (one count).
During a press briefing, the Attorney General described how the suspects operated: Vote harvesting is accomplished generally in two phases: seeding and harvesting. In the seeding phase, applications for mail ballot are proliferated in order to blanket targeted precincts with mail ballots. Then, when ballots are mailed out by the election offices, harvesters attempt either to intercept the ballots outright, or to “assist” elderly voters in voting their ballots while ensuring that the votes are cast for the candidates of the harvesters’ choice. In most cases, the voters do not even know their votes have been stolen.
The investigation into the Fort Worth voter fraud ring by the attorney general’s prosecutors and detectives revealed that falsified applications were generated using forged signatures and by altering historical applications and resubmitting them without the knowledge of the genuine voters.
The ‘harvesters’ also used deceptive tactics in order to obtain signatures from unsuspecting voters. Many of the victimized voters were forced to cancel their mail-in ballots in order to be eligible to vote in person. Some of the unsuspecting victims were forced into receiving primary ballots for the political party supported by the harvesters, though it was not the Democratic Party candidates the voters wished to vote for.
From 2005-2017, the attorney general’s office prosecuted 97 defendants for numerous voter fraud violations. This year alone, Attorney General Paxton’s Election Fraud Unit – with assistance from a criminal justice grant from the governor’s office – has prosecuted 33 defendants for a total of 97 election fraud violations, according to a news release.
In February 2018, the attorney general revealed his plan for a significant voter fraud initiative and he addressed key problems and policy areas related to election law.