Harris County keeps finding itself in the news, but for all the wrong reasons. After county officials picked another fight with Texas law and Attorney General Paxton over mail-in ballots, and the Supreme Court of Texas stepping in to issue a stay, more bombshells have dropped.
One is a lawsuit filed in Harris County that investigators have evidence of large scale organized ballot harvesting, going all the way to planning by the top party officials. This lawsuit is in response to the Harris County announcement that voters could begin hand-delivering absentee ballots for the presidential election to one of 11 annexes on Monday. The plaintiffs—the Harris County Republican Party and several individuals—allege this is all part of the mail in ballot push and harvesters intend to use the extra time to collect more fraudulent votes.
And as if to underscore the importance of this issue, especially related to mail-in ballots, Gov. Abbott issued a proclamation enhancing ballot security protocols for the in-person delivery of marked mail ballots for the Nov. 3 election. Under this proclamation, beginning on Oct. 2, mail-in ballots that are delivered in person by voters who are eligible to vote by mail must be delivered to a single early voting clerk’s office location.
If true, these new developments cast a different light on Harris County Clerk Chris Collins and County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s push for widespread sending of unsolicited mail-in ballots and extended voting. Both have bucked state rules and explicit guidance—including a letter as well as legal direction from the AG’s office regarding qualifications for mail-in ballots. In suggesting non-qualified Harris County voters can use a mail ballot, they are deliberately misleading people—despite repeated court rulings going as high as the Texas Supreme Court. The departure back in the spring of Collin’s predecessor, Diane Trautman, also takes on a new dimension based on the affidavits. This all adds up to something being rotten in the county of Harris, with apologies to Hamlet.
Registered voters age 65 and up already received applications in July, and mail-in ballot are already in circulation as of Sept. 19.
Collins has argued that the nature of the coronavirus pandemic means he must ensure voters who are sick can still vote. But repeated court rulings say that fear of catching COVID-19 doesn’t count as a disability or sickness by itself. In East Texas, four Gregg County commissioners were indicted for 2018 ballot harvesting using just that technique.
Throughout the nation, the rush to send mail-in ballots to voters who may not have requested them resulted in well over half a million voters having their ballots rejected in the 2020 presidential primaries. Evidence shows that voting by mail is more prone to error and harder to correct than voting in person. That’s to say nothing of the postal delays that can occur. All these factors, plus the concerns about ballot harvesting, add up to confusion and a loss of trust by the electorate in an especially contentious election year.
And recently, as if in recognition of these issues, some left-leaning groups have suggested a shift to in-person voting.
Inaccurate voter rolls and issues with registration of non-citizen voters (something raised this week in a lawsuit by the Public Interest Legal Foundation) mean that thousands of mail-in ballots could arrive in Harris County mailboxes with no corresponding voter in the home. People tend to move, and unfortunately also die, and those thousands of unclaimed ballots become a temptation to cheaters. Once ballot applications have been sent out, they can be easily intercepted and used by vote harvesters. This recipe for ballot fraud is far from fiction, with documented Harris county examples from as recently as 2018.
Harris County should follow the law, and not disenfranchise its own voters by rushing to send out mail-in ballots universally. And officials should fully investigate the allegations of fraud being raised. The risk for a stolen election is too great. We know that tried-and-true methods of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic are working, and can be safely employed for the Nov. 3 election.
Most importantly, as Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Justice James Ho wrote, “(the right to vote) won’t count if it’s cancelled by a fraudulent vote—as the Supreme Court has made clear in case after case.”