Election fraud cases that grab the most headlines are almost always related to vote harvesting. Vote harvesting is the term used to describe teams of people who conduct large-scale operations to illegally obtain massive amounts of ballots for a chosen candidate. It is so common in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley that harvesters have their own special name—Politiqueras.

The complexity and number of these operations in any given election are shocking. Every case the Texas Office of the Attorney General’s Election Integrity Division had involving vote harvesting had its own creative element to it, and no two were identical.

The basic framework is this: A single harvester, or team of harvesters, would canvass a geographic area and specifically target individuals who would not anticipate the grift. Targeting these specific areas, the harvesters then go door-to-door registering voters and applying for mail-in ballots in a process we called “seeding.”

Afterwards, all that is left to do is to ensure that the harvester is at the voter’s home when the mail-in ballot arrives so they can collect the ballot and carrier envelope after convincing the voter that they are taking the ballot to the “election office.” At that point, the ballot is entirely in control of the harvester to be falsified, modified, or destroyed.

Because voters over the age of 65 are legally allowed to vote by mail and are often more likely to be taken advantage of, nursing homes and assisted living facilities were a common target. Other potential areas would be large neighborhoods where the population was relatively uneducated, elderly, or did not speak English.

Although we would often find a myriad of—often technical—violations with the registration process or the application for ballot by mail, the harvesting itself would be where the criminality really comes into scope. We might see prefilled ballot carrier envelopes or applications for ballot by mail where the only indication that the voter was even present might be an unverified signature.

The harvester may also just forge the voter’s signature, which might be apparent by the clean lines or neatness (almost comically in some cases where the harvester would simply just print the voter’s name), compared to the signature on their state issued ID.

In one of my cases, when we approached one of several victims to verify if it was his signature on ballot carrier envelope, he explained that he knew that his signature had been forged because he never wrote out his first name, but instead preferred to use his first and middle initials. He also explained that he never votes by mail because his local polling place was the high school that was directly across the street from his home.

Often the fraud was more nuanced. The harvester approaches the voter to “assist” them in casting their vote for president, governor, or whatever race they are interested in, leaving the rest of the ballot blank for the harvester to fill out themselves. To a harvester, this essentially operates almost like a blank check.

This would be more obvious in general elections where a ballot would seem to indicate a voter was a straight ticket, or single race voter, but down-ballot would vote for a commissioner, or city council member from the opposing party. It is even more suspicious when the same person is assisting dozens of voters who all vote for that same candidate.

This pattern creates a “fingerprint” which would likely not be noticed by anyone who was not already searching for it. Utilizing that and the name or description of the harvester from the harvested voters or election office, we would try to discern who the harvester was and who they might be working for.

Large harvesting operations could also include several different actors. In a few of our cases, the harvesters knew when mail-in ballots were to arrive at voters’ houses because they had someone working at the post office or with another delivery provider. One infamous harvester and her team all worked at a local food bank, and their victims were the people to whom they delivered food.

For nursing homes or assisted living facilities, the harvesters might pay the person running the home itself, where ballots would be collected and delivered to the harvester directly. The harvester might not have to interact with the voters at all.

There were also cases where the harvester, or even candidates, registered multiple people who lived in a different voting precinct to vote from the candidate’s personally owned home or property.

Egregiously, one ballot verification committee was alleged to even include a family member who somehow knew when to ensure that a ballot was counted.

Of course, if a voter did not vote the way the harvester wanted them to, or filled out their ballot in such a way that it could not be modified, it was not unheard of for the harvester to simply destroy a ballot altogether. One harvester would go so far as to steam open ballot carrier envelopes to check the ballot and destroy the votes that were against their candidate.

Remember, it is not a matter of who has the most votes, it is who has the most votes for them counted.

And if you think this is only happening in Texas, think again.