Nueces County Clerk Kara Sands gave a presentation on voter fraud to the local commissioners court late last week. In addition to citing facts and figures, she introduced a collection of former candidates; some elected, others not, but all addressed brushes with voter fraud.
“It’s not about me–it’s about the people who see it firsthand,” she later told Breitbart Texas. Sands explained, “I wanted to bring awareness to this problem.”
On January 17, the past candidates spoke before the Nueces County Commissioners Court. Each ran for public office in Robstown, located roughly 20 miles west of Corpus Christi. “Election fraud is real in Nueces County,” said Sands. “This is not a victimless crime.”
Gilbert Gomez, a retired Robstown police officer who failed in his 2008 and 2016 bids for city constable, recounted receiving constant complaints from voters about mail-in ballot intimidation. He said mainly elderly and disabled voters got taken advantage of by nefarious people. Hermilo Pena, a sitting Justice of the Peace, called those perpetrating election fraud “an organized group” who were “in farmer’s terms, cultivating and harvesting votes in large quantities.” Pena recalled he was approached by “a guy” who promised him 250 ballots for $1,000, an offer which he declined. Recently elected Robstown City Councilman Cezar Martinez commented: “This is not a party issue, it’s a people issue.”
Breitbart Texas caught up with Sands this week as her office was gathering new documentation on mail-in ballots and in-person voter fraud complaints. She plans to submit them to the Office of the Texas Attorney General.
Nueces is one of several Texas counties under investigation by the state AG’s office over voter fraud. In fact, the AG opened three investigations into Nueces County elections where allegations of mail-in ballot voter fraud and other voting irregularities surfaced in Robstown. Some of the reported fraud dated back to a 2016 municipal elections and others, to a 2017 November city council race followed by a December runoff contest.
Last year, Sands filed a complaint on possible electioneering and illegal voter assistance during a 2016 runoff for a seat on the Robstown Utility Board. KRIS 6 reported that surveillance footage from Robstown City Hall, a voting place during the runoff, captured utility board candidate Robert Gonzalez interacting with voters, approaching them in line, and even walking people into the booth to cast their ballots. County voter assistance records showed Gonzalez helped 19 people vote in the runoff election. However, voter assistance is only permitted under certain criteria. Gonzalez won that runoff by 70 votes and denied any wrongdoing,
Sands told Breitbart Texas that it is not only high profile elections that should concern people but also the local and nonpartisan races for utility and school boards, even constable. Sands said she felt so strongly about “keeping our elections fair” and devoid of fraudulent activity that she went to Austin to testify on this issue on her “own dime.”
Previously, Martinez testified with Sands and others before the state elections committee in what ultimately became one of Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s high priority items during the legislature’s 2017 special session. The resulting Senate Bill 5 created safeguards to better detect fraudulent ballots. It shored up protections for individuals who vote by mail, predominantly the elderly and the disabled. The bill made tampering with absentee ballots a state jail felony, stiffening penalties from two to 1o years in prison plus a $10,000 fine. Repeat offenders could receive a sentence up to 20 years. The law went into effect on December 1, 2017.
SB 5 also requires that rejected absentee ballots suspected of fraud get reported to the AG’s office. “That’s a big deal,” Sands told Breitbart Texas, noting this simplifies and expedites the investigative process.
Since the turn of the new year, counties across Texas are seeing spikes in election integrity issues ahead of the 2018 Election.
Last week, Direct Action Texas filed 30 new election fraud complaints in Nueces County with the Secretary of State and the AG’s office related to the county’s November 7, 2017 elections, specifically the Robstown City Council races. The complaints largely allege mail ballot application forgeries, unlawful assistance with ballots by mail, and unlawful witness.
“The brazenness of these actors to commit fraud when they have already been called out is unprecedented,” Aaron Harris told Breitbart Texas. “We are currently reviewing the December runoff election.” He noted the pattern of activity his group uncovered “in Nueces mirrors that which we have documented in Dallas, Tarrant, and Harrison Counties.”
According to Harris, Direct Action Texas found fraudulent activity and “other serious election integrity issues” in Tarrant, Dallas, Harrison, Hill, and Nueces Counties. In 2016, his political advocacy organization unmasked alleged mail-in ballot voter fraud in Tarrant County that prompted the Texas AG’s office to launch the largest voter fraud investigation in the state’s history.
Harris cited other blaring examples of fraud in Hill County where he said they found “18 percent more votes than voters.”
Breitbart Texas previously reported on a potential federal lawsuit brewing in Bexar County after a nonprofit law firm, the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), accused local officials of “concealing” voter registration records belonging to ineligible noncitizens. The group argues that the National Voter Registration Act allows them public inspection rights for voter maintenance records. On Monday, the PILF followed up by placing Harris County on notice for similar alleged failures.
Late last week, Starr County District Attorney Omar Escobar announced an investigation into an unspecified number of applications for mail ballots, Breitbart Texas reported. The 229th District Attorney is coordinating his effort with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, according to new state requirements. Escobar is probing whether the flagged applications were potentially submitted without the knowledge of the actual registered voters in question.
Starr County is no stranger to election integrity concerns. As Breitbart Texas noted, the American Civil Rights Union, represented in court by the aforementioned PILF, filed a federal lawsuit in 2016 over concerns that local officials were not following federal requirements to adequately maintain voter rolls. The groups regularly argue that dirty voter records are precursors for voter fraud in the mail.
On January 18, the Dallas County Commissioners Court released new regulations in response to their experience with large-scale mail ballot voter fraud that ensnared a city council race in a predominantly older, minority jurisdiction. The rule, setting limits for receiving printed mail ballot applications in County offices and requiring that requestors sign a registry, saw a mixed reception after County Judge Clay Jenkins questioned the effectiveness of the reform if bad actors can still download and print unlimited amounts in private.
“We can no longer deny that election fraud is real,” said Aaron Harris, who noted that more reforms and the resources are sorely needed. He said currently neither the Secretary of State nor the AG’s office have the “statutory mandate” to ensure election accuracy.
“No one has that job in Texas,” said Harris. “We must make it their job.”
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