Group petitions Texas Supreme Court over Harris County ballot harvesting case

By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square

The Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, Houston-based Dr. Steven Hotze, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, and others have asked the Texas Supreme Court to intervene to compel the Harris County elections administrator to follow election law governing mail ballot procedures and to follow a previous Texas Supreme Court ruling in State v. Hollins.

“The Administrator’s illegal election scheme creates voter confusion and an environment for voter fraud, including ballot harvesting,” Houston-based Jared Woodfill told The Center Square. “Ballot harvesting or vote trafficking are schemes where individuals collect and return mail-in votes on behalf of multiple voters. Sometimes the voter may realize their ballot is being harvested, especially if compensation was involved. Sometimes, they may not realize it is being harvested, as they are misinformed that the harvester is just ‘providing a service or assistance.’”

There are currently 500 election fraud cases pending in the courts, the Attorney General’s Office says, many of which include cases related to ballot harvesting.

“Paid ballot harvesters are fueled by uncontrolled ballot applications,” Woodfill said. “This is the feedstock for their paid felonies. The more mail ballot applications are floating in the public domain, the more opportunities the ballot harvesters have to commit paid election fraud. Mass mailings of unsolicited mail ballot applications is reckless because, among other things, the Harris County voter rolls, for which the Administrator is also responsible, are populated by the names of voters who are either deceased or no longer legal residents of the county.”

Under Texas law, voting by mail is only lawful under certain circumstances. Using an emergency order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott, who also extended the window of early voting by one week for the general election last year, former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins introduced sweeping changes to election procedures. He argued the changes were necessary to help more people have access to remote voting options during the state shutdown and quell fears over contracting the coronavirus. Nine of 10 drive-through voting locations were in Democratic-controlled counties.

Hollins held the position for several months prior to and shortly after the election, and was replaced by Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth. The county then created a new Elections Administrator’s Office and hired a new Chief Election Official, Isabel Longoria, transferring election oversight from the clerk’s office to her office.

On Oct. 3, Gov. Abbott issued an order limiting drop box procedures for mail-in ballots after receiving numerous complaints and allegations of potential fraud. The Texas Supreme Court upheld Abbott’s order.

Likewise, election officials received a warning letter from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office in October 2020, reminding them that making up their own voting rules was “unlawful and could result in legal liability.”

Woodfill filed several lawsuits on behalf of the same plaintiffs who have most recently petitioned the Texas Supreme Court again.

After Woodfill sued, Administrator Longoria, The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and several groups sued after Abbott signed Texas’ sweeping election reform bill into law, SB 1.

“SB1 will reduce voter participation and discriminate on the basis of race, and for those reasons, it should be struck down in court,” Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for MALDEF, said in a statement. “In addition to making voting more difficult for all voters, SB1 is aimed directly at Latinos and Asian Americans with specific provisions that cut back on assistance to limited English-proficient voters.”

A separate lawsuit was filed by Texas Civil Rights Project, League of Women Voters, Asian American Legal Defense Fund, Disability Rights Texas, and the ACLU.

Longoria said in a news release that her “first and only priority is to educate and help voters to lawfully cast their ballots. Voting by mail is not simply another method to vote – for many senior voters and voters with disabilities, it’s their only option to vote. SB1 makes it a crime for me to encourage those who are eligible to vote by mail to do so, effectively making it impossible to fulfill my sworn duty as Elections Administrator.”

Woodfill argues that the purpose of his petition is to protect seniors, whom he argues are prime targets of voter fraud.

“Ballot harvesters target the elderly and have been known to prey on those in nursing homes,” he said. “By sending an unsolicited application to voters sixty-five or older, the administrator’s illegal conduct provides the harvester with the tools they need … to allow ballot harvesting to occur amongst some of the most vulnerable voters in Harris County.”

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