In South Texas last summer, a Hidalgo school board election was voided after allegations of mail-in ballot fraud. Judge Federico “Fred” Hinojosa Jr., a Democrat, expressed concern that 52 ballots “were cast in violation of the Texas Election Code and should not have been counted.”
It doesn’t sound like much, but those 52 votes were enough to decide the election — by 43 votes.
And in April, Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina was arrested, along with his wife, on charges of election fraud. He’s accused of asking supporters who lived outside city limits to change their addresses so they could vote for him. As the New York Times reports, “Nearly 20 people have been arrested since last year in connection with the fraud case.” Molina and his wife have pleaded not guilty; a trial is scheduled for March.
Election fraud is nothing new in South Texas, but many continue to claim it’s a myth. Yet in that claim, there’s always a caveat. Election fraud, if it exists, isn’t “widespread,” they contend. The Florida Times-Union, for example, asked in an editorial once what pink unicorns and widespread voter fraud in America have in common. The answer, of course, was “they’re both myths!”
Yet unlike those unicorns (hue notwithstanding), fraudulent ballots do exist, and they need not exist in big herds to affect the outcomes of elections. As Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office has pointed out, “Not only does a fraudulent vote offset a valid one, but it undermines the integrity of elections and threatens the legitimacy of our democratically-elected state and federal governments.”
Ensuring the integrity of elections shouldn’t be a partisan issue, particularly when many of the allegations of fraud involve nonpartisan races, such as elections for mayor and school board seats.
What can Texas do? First, we must make election integrity a priority.
As a RealClearInvestigations piece reported last year, “Local prosecutors like [Starr County District Attorney Omar] Escobar who pursue their own election fraud investigations are rare. The time-consuming process of investigating the cases, often-reluctant witnesses, and other crime-fighting demands make aggressive local policing difficult.”
More resources — and more resolve — would make it easier to ensure that our elections are fair.
That’s why the Texas Public Policy Foundation has launched a new Elections Integrity project, which will examine and document abuses such as mail-in ballot harvesting, and the actions of voter harvesters, often called politiqueras, who might cross the line into illegal activity. This issue is critical for our representative form of government in Texas and the nation.
Critics warn that overzealous efforts can discourage some voters, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Conscientious investigators, working together with elections officials and district attorneys, can help ensure every valid vote counts.
Elections are important — too important to be conducted without assurances of their integrity.