The face of voter fraud in Texas is not Crystal Mason who voted provisionally, but illegally. She had not completed her terms of supervised release stemming from a 2011 federal tax fraud conviction. She is the exception who made a mistake, though it is still considered “harvesting” under the current definition.
Each stolen vote disenfranchises a legitimate voter. Unfortunately some of the most vulnerable areas being exploited are senior citizen’s homes, new American communities, and college campuses. These groups are regularly being taken advantage of by people they trust.
They are frequently referred to as harvesters but we should call it like it is—they are vote traffickers. A single voter like Mrs. Mason, hardly qualifies under the existing definition of a harvester. Unlike a pending case where a state facility care worker in the Mexia facility allegedly fraudulently requested ballots for 60 some residents there, most without their knowledge.
The face of vote fraud is more simply like the ongoing prosecution of Joann Ramone, who’s been in the media more than once for voter fraud. While “innocent until proven guilty” is what our nation was founded upon, she certainly has some things to explain after being caught on video bragging about delivering ballots. Interestingly, she also owns a cemetery in San Antonio and according to the same coverage, refuses to release the records of who is interred there. Perhaps some of those voters rose to participate in elections in the past? Who knows. What I do know is that these people are causing Texans, regardless of their political leaning, to distrust the process and system.
Ballot traffickers, and stopping their cycle of exploitation and broken chain of custody, are why we need reform–not Mrs. Mason. It is understandable she may not have understood that her right to vote had not yet been restored. It was an isolated incident and nobody seems to have a good answer for her being convicted in a Fort Worth court of appeals. The media isn’t shouting quite so loudly that this violation is under review and hopefully will be expunged. As Texas Public Policy are leaders in criminal justice reform, we certainly applaud second chances.
Thankfully, legislators have several reforms measures this session, including omnibuses HB 6, SB 7, as well as House HB 2478 on voter ID for mail ballots and its companion in the Senate, SB 1509, being heard this week.
Taken together, these represent an important step towards accountability and security in our elections. They secure in person voting, prohibit public officials from sending out unrequested absentee ballots, strengthen protections against ballot harvesting, and ban the unsavory private money in public election administration. These bills also standardize the ID requirements for voting by mail and voting in-person.
While we’re still waiting for rulings in the alleged fraud the last few cycles, we know these stories have eroded the trust in our elections. Fortunately, our formula to restore the integrity of our elections is simple: HB 6 + SB 7+ the voter ID for ballot-by-mail.
Opponents say the proposed the penalties in bills such as HB 6 and SB 7 would create more cases like Mrs. Mason’s. But let’s take a moment to think. These existing codes have knowing or willing intent as a standard. By that standard, your friends or family would be criminally liable only if knowingly and with intent to violate the law they assist you to vote with intent to defraud you, or you vote when you are aware you are ineligible and committing an illegal act. Honest mistakes are not what the Attorney General’s already-stretched fraud division (only composed of a handful of prosecutors) are interested in. Fraud is.
Some bills being considered go an extra step to explicitly inform a convicted felon they are ineligible to vote until completing the full terms of their supervision, which may have helped Mrs. Mason but regardless, the individual is not the issue here. It’s the people exploiting the individual. And even more, those confusing the point and fear-mongering when 81% of Texans believe in voter ID.
For those lawyers out there, the term is mens rea. For the rest of us, that means guilty intent—and ballot traffickers have it. Individuals making mistakes do not. It’s a distinction many of the opponents of election integrity reform would do well to remember—that is, after they read the bills, the Election code, and precedent set by Supreme court cases and not use a straw man, or woman, as proof there are no problems here.