Texas Investigates Allegations of Voter 'Harvesting'

A Republican consultant says he found "thousands" of suspicious mail-in ballots.

Published Oct. 19, 2016

Image courtesy of KTVT-TV

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office is reportedly investigating allegations of voter fraud brought by a Republican political consultant.

A spokesperson for Paxton's office would not confirm or deny to on 19 October 2016 that officials were looking into the alleged fraud in Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth, but Governor Greg Abbott has already touted what he called "the largest voter fraud investigation" in the state's history there:

Consultant Aaron Harris and his group, Direct Action Texas, have claimed credit for the allegations, and Tarrant County prosecutors have confirmed the probe, which centers on the use of mail-in ballots. According to Harris, they found "thousands" of cases in which the signatures for mail-in ballot applications did not match those on the actual ballots. Harris also promised to reveal at a 17 October meeting in Tarrant County that at least two officials he said were elected because of voter fraud.

Direct Action has not yet responded to a request for comment regarding that meeting.

Direct Action says on their web site that illegal vote harvesting is part of what they term "the Fort Worth way" of doing politics:

A few years ago, an organization in Fort Worth went door-to-door collecting signatures for a petition drive. Under the guise of a fake group advocating “voting rights” they had hundreds, perhaps thousands, of citizens sign their names on iPads and tablets. Using an electronic pen, harvesting organizations use these digital signatures over and over again on other forms without the knowledge or permission of the voter.

Harvesters will also occasionally go door-to-door, collecting signed applications for ballots, but the vast majority simply pre-fill the applications and use the electronic signatures they already garnered from past elections. The harvester then sends the applications to the Elections Office each day in small groups on behalf of the voter. This is called batching. By using batching in a very calculated fashion, the harvester knows exactly when the applications were sent and — more importantly — when they’ll arrive in the voters’ mailboxes.

Direct Action also alleges that the "harvesters" are selected in order to gather votes from certain communities:

They are first or second generation Americans who speak fluent Spanish and are sent into Spanish speaking neighborhoods. They are African-American women, including well-known members of the largest local churches. They are elderly women with life-long involvement in their neighborhood.

Republicans have been accused of targeting African-Americans, Latinos and the elderly with various measures limiting their voting opportunities, including "voter ID" laws and restrictions on early voting. A University of California-San Diego study released in February 2016 found that identification laws can reduce black voter turnout by eight percentage points, and Latino voter turnout by nine percentage points. Asian-American voters were impacted even more, with a 12.5 percent dip in turnout.

A month after the issuance of that report, Governor Abbott claimed that voter fraud was "rampant" in Texas, but a separate study conducted by the Arizona State University-based investigative journalism project News21 found 104 cases of fraud out of 35.8 million votes cast in the state between 2000 and 2011 — less than 3 cases per each million votes.

However, the allegations in Tarrant County are not unprecedented in the state. Federal and state officials have investigated the use of campaign workers in the Rio Grande Valley (known locally as politiqueras), resulting in charges against some of them for "manipulating mail-in ballots."

The FBI did not respond to a request for comment regarding this probe.

Arturo Garcia is a former writer for Snopes.