Top Texas Republicans are seizing on voter registration mailers sent by the state’s Democratic Party to hype a potential investigation ahead of next month’s election, where the race for a U.S. Senate seat is more competitive than it’s been in years.
Secretary of State Rolando Pablos’ (R) office touted a referral its director of elections sent to the state attorney general’s office Monday seeking a criminal investigation into the mailers. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) tweeted a story Tuesday by the conservative outlet the Washington Times about the referral.
The GOP allegations center on the mailers including voter registration forms where a box confirming the applicant’s citizenship is pre-checked off. The referral claims this may be a violation of a Texas law that makes a misdemeanor “attempts to induce” another person into making false statement on a voter registration form.
The current panic is that the pre-checked voter registration forms may have ended up in the hands of non-citizens.
There are no public signs yet that the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office is, in fact, investigating the claims.The office did not respond to TPM’s inquiries, but it told ProPublica that it does not comment on potential investigations.
A spokesperson for the secretary of state said in an email to TPM that Pablos’ office had received a “large volume of calls from Texans about these mailers” that came on a “daily” basis and even after the voter registration deadline had passed.
“In some cases, lawfully present non-citizens were calling to ask our office if receiving one of these pre-checked forms meant that they were eligible to vote now, and we informed them that you have to be a U.S. citizen to register to vote in Texas,” the spokesman Sam Taylor said. “In other cases, Texans were calling us indicating the pre-filled forms were addressed to their deceased relatives, some of whom had passed away more than 10 or 15 years ago.”
“The Texans who called us were concerned and confused as to why they were receiving the mailers,” he added.
Among those ringing the alarm about the mailer was the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group that pushes for more restrictive voting laws, which had picked up photos of the mailer from a Texan who had posted them on Facebook. The Texan claimed in a affidavit PILF sent last week to law enforcement officials in the state that “several relatives who are legal permanent residents” had contacted him after receiving the mailers.
The Texas Democratic Party, in a statement to TPM after PILF initially floated the allegations, said that the party was “proud to have made an unprecedented investment to provide eligible Texans with the opportunity to vote.”
“Using the secretary of state’s voter file, national change of address information, and consumer data, the Texas Democratic Party mailed voter registration applications to a large number of people who may have moved to Texas, changed their or a loved one’s address, or are members of Texas’ diverse and rising electorate,” Texas Dems’ executive director Manny Garcia said. “These data sets are large, complicated, and imperfect. Nonetheless, every mail piece makes it absolutely clear that applicants are affirming under penalty of perjury that they meet all of the eligibility requirements to vote.”
Asked about the more recent referral, Garcia added that, “while Democrats are talking about health care and the kitchen-table issues that keep Texans up at night, Republicans have been desperately looking for ways to cause fear and divide. ”
Texas election and law enforcement officials have engaged in a highly-publicized crackdown of what they have described as voter fraud, even in cases where the alleged perpetrators were unaware they were voting illegally.
A black woman in Texas was recently sent to prison for five years for casting a ballot while on probation for a tax fraud felony. She said she was not aware that the terms of felony probation included included the loss of her voting rights. Court documents she filed also claim that the election official who accepted her ballot and then turned her in was aware that she had previously been in jail, but never questioned her about it when he provided her a provisional ballot.
At an event where they called for Republican volunteer poll workers, local GOP officials also pointed to the recent arrest of four women who allegedly operated a mail-in fraud ring.
“They did the mail-in ballots, and they’ll try to do at their location if they’re unwatched,” Fort Worth GOP Chair Darl Easton said at a recent Tea Party gathering, referring to polling places were the election judges or poll watchers are Democrats.
“We can keep this election honest and we can keep the county red,” he said, according to a video posted by the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
Republicans’ shift in attention towards alleged registration or mail-in ballot fraud comes as their claims about mass in-person voter fraud, which is the justification for voter ID laws, have shown to be unfounded.
According to court filings in the litigation over Texas’ photo voter ID law, state officials in charge of investigating voter fraud were aware of only one conviction and one guilty plea related to in-person voter fraud in the state from 2002 to 2014.
Claims about mass voter registration fraud have also withered under legal scrutiny. When Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) was defending his proof of citizenship requirement to register to vote in court, he could only point to five non-citizens who may have voted in the last 14 years in the second most populous county in the state.