Elections 2020IssuesLocal NewsStatewide NewsAlleged Ballot Harvesting in Harris County Prompts Investigation Request by Secretary of State

A two-year investigation uncovered an alleged ballot harvesting scheme in which people with prior forgery convictions picked up batches of mail-in ballots and a number of voted ballots were marked identically.
May 8, 2020
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The Texas Secretary of State has referred an official complaint alleging ballot harvesting in Harris County to the state’s Office of the Attorney General for investigation.

In referring the complaint to the OAG, Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram notes allegations that “people with prior forgery convictions picked up large batches of ballot by mail applications for local campaigns and a number of voted ballots were marked identically.”

The original complaint was filed by Colleen Vera, a retired teacher and activist, who spent several years researching and collecting evidence on a possible vote harvesting scheme in the Houston and Harris County area.

Evidence Vera collected includes two audio recordings made by a Democrat campaign worker who believed an opponent had used ballot harvesting techniques to sway a 2016 primary on behalf of Michel Pappillion

During one recorded audio, Gloria Palmer explains that in addition to block walking and traditionally campaigning, she also has access to nursing homes with “codes to get in.” Palmer then explains that in the nursing home she “will get them to absentee vote for who we’re working for.” She also tells the caller she helps senior citizens fill out absentee ballots, and also mails the ballots for them.

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Vera’s documentation also includes electronic copies of applications for ballots by mail, returned ballot carrier envelopes, and even actual ballots from 2018.

According to Vera, whose documents are available online, 32 handwritten applications for ballots by mail feature the exact same handwriting. All 32 voters had returned the applications in the same pre-printed envelope with the same stamp style, and all resided in Harris County Precinct 259.

Although she had to wait for 22 months post-election to view the actual ballots, Vera then obtained access to the ballots in January of 2020. Her copies of ballots from Precinct 259 voters show at least 30 using the same style of handwriting. 

In addition, although the Harris County ballot in 2018 featured over 150 contests, several ballots only included votes for two candidates: U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18) and State Representative Harold Dutton (D-Houston).

Vera has found evidence indicating there may have been at least three different alleged harvesters turning in ballots with identical handwriting, envelope, and stamping styles.

A handwritten sign out sheet for canvassers who had picked up packages of 50 or more applications for absentee mail ballots in 2018 includes the signature of a Gloria B. Palmer, the woman allegedly speaking in the audio recorded in 2016.

Vera also did background checks on the signers and discovered a Gloria B. Palmer of the same age with a forgery conviction. A second signer who picked up multiple absentee ballot applications, Sheree Fisher, also allegedly has a forgery conviction.

On the sign out sheet Vera obtained, Gloria B. Palmer indicated she was working on behalf of the Sheila Jackson Lee campaign, and Federal Election Commission records show that the Jackson Lee political action committee made multiple payments to Gloria Palmer in 2016 and to both Palmer and Sheree Fisher in 2018.

Vera has also documented several Harris County Democrats’ campaigns making payments to Palmer and Fisher, and payments to an entity only identified as “A B Canvassing,” without any address provided.

Records indicate the existence of an “A B Canvassing Incorporated” located at 6111 Westover St. in Houston, which names a Lawrence L. Dupree II as the registered agent.

Vera’s research also points to other individuals who were convicted of forgery paid through either A B Canvassing or the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) in the Harris County area. Campaigns paying these groups include a wide variety of Democrat officials from federal, state, and local governments.

As several federal and state district court lawsuits seek to impose universal absentee mail ballots for Texas, Vera notes that such ballots do not require voter identification.

“Texas does not require photocopies of ID to accompany the ballot by mail application. The only “security” Texas statue has in place for ballots by mail is a comparison of the voter’s signature on the application to the voter’s signature on the ballot envelope.”

Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman, whose 2018 campaign reports show a payment of $2,325 to another convicted forger identified by Vera, has stated that her office will accept any claims of “disability” on ballot by mail applications.

Trautman also recently requested and received from the Harris County Commissioners Court an additional $12 million to accommodate ballots by mail for all county voters in 2020 elections.

Last week Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to all county judges and elections officials warning that those advising voters afraid of coronavirus to claim disability on mail ballot applications could be subject to criminal penalties.

Election officials participating in a conference call with Trautman this week said the clerk told them she would be backing away from her plan to send out unsolicited mail ballot applications to every voter over age 65. 

Trautman explained that the Secretary of State had not responded to requests for guidance on mailing the applications. When questioned further by one participant as to why she would not proceed with the plan, Trautman allegedly answered, “Not in this environment, no way.”

“As a former election official, I know how hard it is to have a successful prosecution of ballot harvesting,” said State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) who served as Tax-Assessor Collector overseeing voter registration in Harris County from 1998-2008.

“Colleen Vera’s complaints are so well documented, it is so important to the integrity of the election system that these complaints be thoroughly investigated,” Bettencourt told The Texan.

According to Texas Election Code, it is a first-degree felony to act “with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a vote harvesting organization.”

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Cypress, Texas. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.