Election fraud: It’s a loaded term in our nation’s public discourse but I’ve found that even politically savvy people do not fully understand how complicated, or common it is.

I was a prosecutor in the Texas Attorney General’s Election Integrity Division from 2019 to 2023. I went there shortly after the office was created, when we became our own division, during COVID-19 pandemic, through the highly contested 2020 Trump v. Biden General Election. And I saw the impact of the State v. Stephens decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, our high criminal court, removing authority from the Texas Attorney General’s Office to independently prosecute election fraud.

With the upcoming election and renewed discussion on election integrity and voter fraud, I felt it was important to explain from the point of view of a former prosecutor that that election fraud is real, it is dangerous, and it can change the outcome of elections. When I talk about my previous occupation, I’m often asked, “Can someone actually steal an election?” or “What does election fraud look like?”

As to whether it’s possible to steal an election, the answer is undeniably yes. The impact a refined election fraud operation can have cannot be understated.  Our office saw cases where votes were potentially harvested in the hundreds, if not the thousands.

Oddly, the majority of the media seem to be of the opinion that election fraud is rare because prosecutions are rare, an approach that doesn’t survive scrutiny when applied to other offenses like sexual assault, theft, or any other criminal offense.

Obviously, just because a crime isn’t being prosecuted doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. The truth is that election fraud is real and more complicated, impactful, and widespread than most realize.

There are also several different ways someone can commit election fraud. The most unique aspect of being part of the state-wide enforcement arm primarily responsible for prosecuting these types of cases was that I was exposed to a variety of ways in which this crime was committed. The cases I saw were usually complex, and always creative.

For example, in one county in North Texas, our office was notified of allegations of potential fraud by the local election office after election workers arrived to find 1,400 applications for ballot by mail had been sent through their fax machine in a single night. Even more suspicious was the fact that these 1,400 applications were sent from the same address.

In East Texas, another election office reported that of four total voting precincts, three precincts reported between 10 to 20 mail-in ballots, while the fourth precinct reported over 400 mail-in ballots.

In South Texas, we opened an investigation after multiple candidates, who by the way were all running for county or district judge seats, simultaneously accused each other of cheating. Through that investigation we discovered a case of a dead person voting in an election.

Recently in Laredo, Texas, a judge overturned an election for city council race that had been decided by only 15 votes, after finding fraud. It does not take a large number of votes to swing an election, and even a small election fraud operation can have a catastrophic impact on election results.

The Texas Legislature has made much needed efforts to pass laws that seek to solve the problem of illegal voting—with some results still to be determined. Cleaning up voter rolls, limiting drop boxes for mail-in ballots, and securing the requirement for identification in casting a ballot go a long way to preventing election fraud or ensuring it can more readily be prosecuted.

Unfortunately, these laws cannot account for the cleverness of some of the more experienced fraudsters. In fact, it may surprise some to learn that some vote harvesters attend deputy voter registrar trainings offered by local election offices and use what they learn to avoid detection.

That is why it takes experienced investigators and prosecutors who understand the nuances of election offenses to investigate and prosecute these cases, both of which are in limited supply.  Other than the Texas Attorney General’s Office, and the Fort Worth District Attorney’s Office, there aren’t a lot of law enforcement entities devoted to rooting out the problem.

Quite frankly, election fraud prosecutions aren’t rare because the fraud doesn’t exist, it’s because the prosecutors don’t.