In a year fraught with voter fraud allegations, many of which resulted in prosecutions across Texas, counties along the Mexican border stood out as hotbeds for investigative activities.
Here are the top 5 voter fraud cases along the Texas border in 2018:
1. Three arrested in Starr County investigation for fraudulently filling in mail-in ballots–one for a dead person.
In January, authorities arrested Ernestina Barron, 50, a Rio Grande City school district employee, on three counts of election fraud and three counts of a fraudulent application for a mail-in ballot for filling out applications illegally for other voters in an earlier election. Days later, officials charged Erika Lozano-Pelayo, 37, after she purportedly submitted an absentee ballot for a voter who died but remained on the voter registration rolls. A third woman, Belinda Garcia, 45, surrendered to the Starr County Special Crimes Unit on a charge of fraudulently applying for a mail-in ballot. She reportedly said the voter was disabled but this was not true.
2. 14 Hidalgo County residents charged in voter fraud scheme.
A total of 14 residents were arrested for their purported roles in a voter scheme that recruited people to falsely claim residential addresses so they could vote in specific races and manipulate the results of a 2017 Edinburg city election. Investigators with the Hidalgo County DA’s office, the Texas Rangers, and Office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton initially arrested four of the suspects in May 2018, all of whom illegally voted in that 2017 election. One was a convicted human smuggler serving probation who voted illegally. Two claimed to live in the city’s limits, but, in fact, resided elsewhere. Another suspect was only charged with making a false statement on a voter registration form. In June, county officials charged a fifth person with two counts of illegal voting. Then, in November, nine more were arrested. The investigation continues and more arrests may come in 2019.
3. Non-U.S. citizen indicted for leading “voter assistance” ring that targeted elderly and disabled voters in Hidalgo County.
In June, a Hidalgo County grand jury indicted Marcela Guttierrez, a non-U.S. citizen on an illegal voting charge for misleading a voter to believe she was demonstrating how to use a voting machine when, actually, Guttierez voted for a slate of candidates she was paid to support in a June 2016 Hidalgo city runoff election. Two of her fellow campaign workers, Sylvia Arojano and Sara Ornelas, also were charged with seven counts of unlawfully assisting voters. Reportedly, Arojano is married to a school board member for the Hidalgo County school district.
4. Poll watcher accuses Hidalgo city official of unlawfully assisting a voter in the 2018 midterm.
In December, the Texas Secretary of State escalated a voter fraud complaint to Paxton’s office. A poll watcher accused Hidalgo City Councilman Rodolfo “Rudy” Franz of unlawfully assisting a voter during the 2018 midterm election’s early voting period. The complaint alleged that Franz suggested and instructed the voter on who to vote for on their ballot even though Franz was asked multiple times by election workers to stop.
5. Texas Democratic Party accused of encouraging noncitizens to vote in 2018 November midterm in Rio Grande Valley.
An October complaint accused the Texas Democratic Party of mailing “altered” voter registration applications to noncitizens in the Rio Grande Valley. The mailers allegedly had the U.S. citizenship box pre-checked, creating false claims to voter eligibility. The document urged recipients to vote in the November midterm election. The box asking if a voter will be 18 years of age on or before election day also was pre-filled. The Public Interest Legal Foundation, an election integrity law firm, alerted Starr and Hidalgo county district attorneys, Paxton, Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) about the complaint. Subsequently, Pablos referred the complaint to Paxton’s office for further investigation.
While Texas border voter fraud cases permeated Breitbart News coverage, other high profiles cases in the Lone Star State garnered honorable mentions:
Texas AG to prosecute three indicted on nine counts of voter fraud in Nueces County 2016 Democratic primary runoff.
Paxton announced his office would prosecute three residents indicted by a grand jury on nine counts of voter fraud stemming back to a May 2016 Nueces County Democratic primary runoff election. County Clerk Kara Sands presented data to a local commissioners court in January that unmasked the alleged voter fraud.
Salvadoran illegal immigrant living in East Texas since the 1980s was indicted on voter fraud and immigration violations charges.
In June, Texas prosecutors indicted Salvadoran national Mario Obdulio Orellana, 57, who lived illegally in the state since the 1980s. Officials said Orellana purportedly falsified documents to obtain a U.S. birth certificate, applied for and received a U.S. passport and a Social Security number. Prosecutors said Orellano claimed to be a U.S. citizen when he registered to vote and fraudulently cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election.
Mexican national faces deportation after pleading guilty to voter fraud in Texas.
In September, Mexican national Laura Janeth Garza, 38, pleaded guilty to voter fraud charges for voting in three election cycles, including 2016. She did so by stealing a Texan’s identity to obtain a U.S. passport and Social Security number. The American citizen victim learned about the fraud when she tried to apply for a passport in her own name and discovered Garza already did so. Garza was sentenced to 10 years in jail, after which she will be deported.
Texas AG: Democratic Party leader funded “voter fraud ring” in Tarrant County.
In October, Paxton’s office indicted four North Texas women for their alleged roles in a “voter fraud ring” that targeted the elderly in select northern Fort Worth precincts during the March 2016 Democrat Party primary election. Subsequently released court documents revealed the ringleader, Leticia Sanchez, 57, allegedly paid her co-defendants with funds provided by the then Tarrant County Democratic Party Executive Director, Stuart Clegg. The scheme reportedly intended to influence the outcome of certain down-ballot races. Allegedly, they did this by “seeding” or proliferating mail-in ballots through forged signatures and altering historical applications, then resubmitting them without the voter’s knowledge.
In Texas, illegal voting is a second degree felony punishable up to 20 years in $10,000 fine. Making a false statement on a voter registration application is a Class B misdemeanor.