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Up to now, this series has only skimmed the surface of the cogs turning the wheel of voter fraud in South Texas. The convoluted layers require multiple elements to survive and for the machine to move forward.
The root begins with the official procedures for the conduct of elections in Texas governed by the Texas Election Code. The election laws can be broken into two main parts—those which are procedural only and have no legal consequence and those which do have legal consequence. Any consequence may be defined as a misdemeanor or a felony within the Election Code, depending on the degree of severity it interferes with the individual’s right to vote. But, both parts still have direct and irretrievable effect on an election’s outcome if not administered properly.
Practices could best be described by the too often heard exclamation, “But that’s the way it’s always been done!” Because it’s always been done that way doesn’t mean it’s correct or legal. How far did that argument get you with your mother? Then they cry, “Discrimination!” if someone else—with correct knowledge—cries, “Foul!” Last time anyone checked, the rule of law applies to everyone.
South Texas Voter Fraud Series
There are three, primary pitfalls: (1) never ending loopholes within the Election Code—form but no substance; (2) voter ignorance and apathy; and (3) selective consideration of the law by those who should be protecting the system.
These pitfalls rely on the nature of mankind as history repeats itself: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
This week, brief examples will highlight the three legs that can weaken or stabilize the election process.
The success of an election depends on which outcome one would want. The laws are in place, but who is enforcing them? What’s the quality of the training for election workers? Can the public rely on intelligent, capable, informed and trustworthy officials—elected or hired—to conduct the election in the proper manner, according to law, equitably for all?
The issues which kept my three adult children from voting seemed to be procedural and sloppy management on the part of the elections department. The elections administrator lost his job, not because of them per se, but from the overall obvious mess. The staff at the office at that time could not be relied on for accurate information. I spent most of my time on the phone with the Secretary of State’s office to get clarifications.
At the polling places, election clerks and judges were often clueless to the legal aspects of their duties and only trained in the mechanics of signing in, clearing the machines for the next voter, etc. Other times they appeared to be part of a more insidious problem working closely with the politiqueras while taking an arrogant stance and ignoring any complaints at the polls.
In Part 2, I wrote that Tony Peña ran for county sheriff and that he lost by 47 votes at the final count. But that wasn’t the first count. The night of the election, the first count was 80-plus votes, and Peña took home copies of that final tally. By the next morning he was getting a call telling him the numbers had gone up to almost 300 and that it was “happening right now.”
He jumped into his truck, headed to the elections office, immediately walked past the receptionist and directly up to the table where two elections officials were hovering over the documents with the counts. One had a pen in his hand; the other was at his shoulder.
Peña asked, “What are y’all doing?”
They turned pale and said, “Oh, we’re just going over the numbers.”
He replied, “Just so you know, those numbers you’re going over, I already have copies of them.”
They put the documents down, and the numbers suddenly went back down to the original totals.
Initially, one ballot box out of the La Joya area had been missing and ended up favoring Peña. It popped up during the recount. That’s when the final count had Peña losing by 47.
Regarding the incident, Peña said, “It’s about power, and it’s about politicians. Had I not walked in there, they would have just written all over everything. So, how do you trust people to do the right thing when you put them in office, and they take an oath of office, at the local level, state level, the federal level and they turn right around and say, ‘We don’t have to do that. Yeah, that’s what the law says, but this is the way we’re really going to do it.’…So, how do you win?”
That would be the million dollar question. Procedures are designed to have a checks and balance—against error—and fraud.
Too often in reviewing the complaints, we found that the election judges and clerks at the polling sites allowed belligerent politiqueras to run the show.
As an example, assistance for voting in person is only allowed under two conditions: (1) a physical disability that renders the voter unable to write or see; or (2) an inability to read the language in which the ballot is written. (Texas Election Code Subchapter B. Assisting Voter, Sec. 64.031).
So, here I am at the election polls, newly aware of this law. In walks an older woman, the politiquera, making a noisy commotion. The scene grabbed my attention. She was with a young, healthy female, who immediately proclaims, in English, that she needs assistance voting, and pronounces that it is because it is her first time to vote. This is not a reason allowable under the law. She produces a college I.D. and is wryly grinning the entire time. Signing her name on the list, she proceeds to the voting booth with her politiquera “guide” who has just sworn in an oath that she will not influence the voter.
Three things have happened in this scenario: (1) an election worker has allowed an illegal action to occur because it is obvious that the young lady has none of the legal reasons required for assistance, (2) a politiquera “needs” to get into that voting booth to make sure the young lady is voting the way in which the two have agreed, because, (3) the young lady is about to be paid for her vote.
Under the Texas Election Code the election worker and the politiquera have just committed a Class A misdemeanor according to Sec. 64.036. Unlawful Assistance. (a) A person commits an offense if the person knowingly: (1) provides assistance to a voter who is not eligible for assistance; and (c) An election officer commits an offense if the officer knowingly permits a person to provide assistance: (1) to a voter who is not eligible for assistance. (Buying and receiving payment for votes and acceptable forms of I.D. at that time are whole other discussions.)
Why would the election worker allow herself to be forced into breaking the law under the Code and the possibility of being found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor? She could have explained to the voter that she was not eligible under the allowable reasons for assistance based on her claim of inexperience and that one of the election workers could show her how to use the machines.
The politiquera could have then been instructed to leave the polling site since she had no authorized reason for being there at that point in time. If the politiquera continued to be belligerent and refused, the election judge had the authority to contact law enforcement to have her removed and/or arrested.
Then the argument can come up in a court case, what constitutes “knowingly” participating in the activity or allowing it to happen? At what point do individual responsibility and accountability come into play—on the part of the voter, the politiquera and the election worker?
So, why do the laws exist, and who is going to enforce them?
The selective consideration of the law by those who should be protecting the system and voter rights truly allows history to repeat itself.
In every society where individuals have found that they can personally benefit from the public treasury through control of the voting process, the nature of the lowest segment of society is revealed. Getting out the vote to line their own pockets becomes their full time job. After finding the loopholes to abuse the system, they then rely on lack of response by law enforcement officials—elected or hired. They stay “employed” by a system born of apathy.
The overwhelming aspect of the illegal activities we found during our investigation was not that people were doing it. It was the impotence the public felt because no one in authority would investigate or pursue action over many decades of abuse—when these things could be verified with documentation and witnesses. From the city and school elections to the ones with federal offices on the ballot, it seemed unimportant to anyone in an elected office who, by definition of the law, was the proper person or entity to act on it. Is it possible they would be upsetting their own apple cart if they pursued it?
These issues are quickly dismissed as not being in large enough volume to change the outcome of the election. That wasn’t the case in Tony Peña’s election.
But is it really happening in the small volumes they say? That’s what we’re going to find out in the weeks ahead.
Many laws have gone into place intended to improve things over the years. New ones have been created since the 2000 election—federally with the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and as recently as the new voter I.D. laws in Texas.
But laws only work when they are enforced. Selective consideration or inaction unravels the entire fabric of its intent. So why have the laws on the books? And, are the laws, which were intended to be stopgap measures, actually adding more loopholes? The verbiage in many seems designed to be impotent—again, form but no substance.
For the stool to stand, each of the three legs requires integrity and diligence at the core.
Whose job is it to clean up the problem?
Next: Part 5, “Are you the problem or the solution?”
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.