Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton pledged Monday to assist Starr County District Attorney Omar Escobar in his “fight against voter fraud.” Paxton also said he “fully supports [Escobar’s] efforts to educate the county’s citizens on existing and amended voting laws.”
The border county DA invited Paxton’s office to assist him with both enforcement and education of citizens.
“DA Escobar’s concerns include mail-in ballot application fraud, unlawful influencing of voters, unlawful mail ballot collection by vote harvesters, and illegal voting by non-residents and non-citizens,” Paxton said in a statement. “There have been two arrests in an ongoing investigation by Escobar’s office into mail ballot voter fraud in the Rio Grande Valley. Senate Bill 5, enacted by the Texas Legislature last session, made it a state jail felony to provide false information on a ballot application or submit an application without a voter’s permission.”
Starr County is located on the Mexican border and is in the Rio Grande City and McAllen-Edinburg statistical area. According to the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), the county is listed along with 12 others in Texas as having more registered voters than eligible residents, Breitbart Texas reported in October 2017. The other jurisdictions on the list are Loving, Brooks, Irion, McMullen, Kenedy, Jim Hogg, Culberson, Edwards, Roberts, Polk, Kent, and Cottle Counties.
The PILF filed a lawsuit on behalf of the American Civil Rights Union in March 2016 against the election administrator in Starr County. The groups allege the county is failing to use reasonable efforts to keep the voter rolls maintained–which can invite voter fraud.
On January 20, Breitbart Texas reported that Starr County District Attorney Escobar pledged a crackdown on voting fraud after questionable applications for mail-in ballot applications surfaced. Several requests for a mail ballot contained false details about the alleged applicants while at least one was filled in the name of a deceased person still listed as a registered voter. The DA also gave the elections department a list of those convicted of felonies, including those who are on felony probation and ineligible to vote for the purpose of removing them from the rolls.
The Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) last special session which makes it a crime to give false information on a voter application. It also provides for a criminal penalty to apply in the name of a potential voter without their consent. The offense is a felony.
In mid-January, Breitbart Texas reported that the Starr County Special Crimes Unit arrested 50-year-old Ernestina Barron, an employee of the local school district, for allegedly filling out applications illegally for other voters.
A few days later, the DA filed charges against 37-year-old Erika Lozano-Pelayo for allegedly submitting a ballot application for a deceased voter who passed a month prior.
Paxton also wrote Escobar a letter saying “We stand ready to assist you in whatever way we are able in your efforts to eliminate fraudulent voting and vote harvesting activity.”
Paxton thanked the Starr County DA for his efforts to address:
[T]he mail-in-ballot application fraud, unlawful influencing of voters, unlawful mail ballot collection by paid voter harvesters (or “politiqueras”), and illegal voting by both non-residents (“precinct hoppers”) and non-citizens.
On Monday, the Texas AG also sent a letter to Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Election Integrity. Paxton warned that although the particular number of violators are unknown, non-citizen voting in the state appears to be “a significant problem.”
Paxton added that the process for removing ineligible voters who self-report as noncitizens for jury duty is not being followed in various counties. He enumerated ways that the Committee on Election Integrity could address voting irregularities. He said the Committee should consider “Requiring notice to the SOS [Secretary of State], OAG [Office of Attorney General], and local prosecutors when a noncitizen with a voting history is removed from the voter rolls due to a notification from the jury duty system.”
The AG also suggested that although the Senate passed SB 5 last year, there were additional measures the Legislature may want to consider, including “Examining widespread abuse of voting assistance procedures to coerce and influence voters,” and “Reviewing signature review procedures for mail ballot applications.”
Paxton also thought that state representatives might want to look at the Wisconsin approach to absentee voting which requires a photo ID and a specified process for voting in nursing homes.
“It is an honor that District Attorney Escobar invited my office to assist him with both enforcement and education,” the Texas attorney general concluded. “We will do everything within our abilities and resources to solidify trust in the voting process, and we hope that Chairman Hughes will consider important legal remedies to this state-wide issue.”
“Voting for our elected leaders is a solemn right the American people hold,” he said. “We must protect the integrity of that process.”
Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior political news contributor for Breitbart Texas. He is a founding member of the Breitbart Texas team. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX, Gab, and Facebook.