87th LegislatureElections 2020IssuesActive Election Fraud Prosecutions at an ‘All Time High,’ Texas Attorney General’s Office Testifies

The number of alleged election fraud offenses is still dwarfed by the number of votes cast in the most recent statewide elections.
April 6, 2021
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Jonathan White, the chief of the election fraud section in the Texas Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Division, testified during a meeting of the Texas House Elections Committee on Thursday that the number of active election fraud cases is “higher than our historical average by a long shot.”

White was offering his perspective as a neutral witness as the committee considered House Bill (HB) 6, legislation by Chairman Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) that would strengthen penalties for voter fraud, add protections for poll watchers, and give more priority to election fraud claims in Texas courts.

Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) asked White whether there were “trends developing” in election fraud prosecutions.

“I can say that our cases are currently at an all-time high, and that’s for several reasons probably, but we have more cases today. We have 510 offenses pending against 43 defendants in court right now,” White testified, noting that cases are also getting more complicated.

In contrast, the attorney general’s office has successfully prosecuted a total of 534 election violations committed by 155 persons since 2005.

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White advised that 80 percent of those pending cases concern alleged mail ballot fraud, and 60 percent of resolved cases were related to vote by mail.

In response to concerns that HB 6 will criminalize honest mistakes, White emphasized that the attorney general’s office does not play “gotcha” and that an “intent element” is necessary for voter fraud prosecutions.

While the number of alleged fraud occurrences is minuscule compared to the 11.3 million votes cast in the 2020 presidential election in Texas, supporters of election integrity laws, such as Clardy and Rep. Mike Schofield (R-Katy), contend that the number of prosecutions is not necessarily a reliable indicator of how often voter fraud occurs.

In addition, statewide elections are not the only contests potentially affected by fraud. In local races with smaller margins of victory for the prevailing candidates, incidents of fraud can be more pernicious.

Supporters of election security measures also believe in pursuing what the bill calls the “purity of the ballot box.”

“I think when it comes to voter fraud that we have to adopt, as the state of Texas to protect the integrity of our elections, a zero-tolerance approach. One is too many. That is always going to be our goal,” Clardy said.

Rep. John Bucy III (D-Austin) asked White to assess the state’s current ability to root out fraud, prompting White to place fears of illegitimate elections into perspective.

“I think we could both agree that 99.9 percent of people are honest and forthright, they don’t cheat at elections. They don’t go around murdering people or committing aggravated robberies, either,” White said. “So, I’m not that guy, that’s gonna say the system is that broken.”

Monica De La Cruz Hernandez — who sought to unseat Rep. Vicente Gonzales (D-TX-15) in 2020 and has announced her candidacy for 2022 — spoke in favor of HB 6 and said she has a “vested interest” in the “success and integrity of our elections.”

Hernandez decried a decision in August by the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court to send mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters ages 65 and older prior to the general election, pointing to the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in State v. Hollins that barred the Harris County clerk from doing the same thing.

The congressional candidate accused Hidalgo County’s election administrator, Yvonne Ramon, of disregarding Hollins and sending mail-in ballot applications anyway.

“What are the repercussions when we have leaders and city officials in our counties that are not upholding current law and upholding what our Texas Supreme Court rulings are?” Hernandez said.

Hernandez lost her congressional race in 2020 with 48 percent of the vote to Gonzales’ 51 percent.

Opponents of the bill contended that the new criminal statutes and penalties would deter election volunteers and that the proposal is conducive to racial discrimination.

Gary Bledsoe, the president of the Texas NAACP, contended that HB 6 is among proposals that have “the makings for the creation of an apartheid state.”

“No fair administration declaration can change the fact that the substance of the law, when executed, will have a hugely negative impact on minority voters and minority election officials,” Bledsoe said.

He went on to say the bill “amounts to an occupation of minority neighborhoods” due to its increased protections for poll watchers. Supporters of poll watchers believe they are necessary for transparency.

About 200 speakers appeared before the committee. 

After testimony and public comment on HB 6 concluded in the predawn hours of Friday morning, Vice-Chair Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas) raised a point of order against further consideration of the bill for lack of a “section-by-section” bill analysis.

Clardy, who was acting as the chair at the time, overruled the point of order, stating that documents qualifying as a bill analysis were already provided to the committee.

Gonzalez made a motion to appeal the ruling of the chair, but the bill survived the motion when the committee voted 5 to 4 to sustain Clardy’s ruling against Gonzalez’s point of order.

The legislation is currently awaiting the committee’s final decision.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.