- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2020

Four people in Texas including a county commissioner were charged with felonies Thursday in an alleged ballot-harvesting scheme, while the Justice Department opened an investigation into discarded mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania.

The developments came as President Trump voiced renewed concerns about the potential for fraud in widespread mail-in voting in the presidential election.

“We have to be very careful with the ballots,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s a whole big scam.”

Texas officials announced charges in what they called a vote-harvesting scheme during the state’s 2018 primary election, accusing four people of arranging to have people mailed absentee ballots even though they didn’t qualify.

In at least one instance the schemers actually cast a ballot on behalf of a voter, while other times they encouraged them to claim to have a disability — or marked the disability box themselves — to make sure the voters were sent an absentee ballot, according to a lengthy indictment.

To vote by mail in Texas, a voter must be 65 years of age or have a disability. The voters in question were young and did not have a disability, Attorney General Ken Paxton said.

The scheme helped Gregg County Commissioner Shannon Brown win the Democratic primary for his seat by expanding the pool of absentee voters.

He would win the primary by 1,047 to 1,042 over Kasha Williams, in part by winning 73.4% of absentee mail ballots, the Longview News Journal reported in 2018.

The newspaper reported that Mr. Brown thanked God for his victory.

A grand jury handed up a 134-count indictment against Mr. Brown, Marlena Jackson, Charlie Burns and DeWayne Ward.

“It is an unfortunate reality that elections can be stolen outright by mail ballot fraud,” Mr. Paxton said in announcing the indictment.

In Pennsylvania, the Justice Department and FBI are investigating how nine military mail-in ballots ended up discarded.

The Justice Department said the nine discarded ballots, seven for President Trump, were discovered in Luzerne County, a Democratic stronghold in the northeast part of the crucial swing state that was captured by the president in 2016.

“At this point we can confirm that a small number of military ballots were discarded,” said David Freed, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, in a statement. “Investigators have recovered nine ballots at this time. Some of those ballots can be attributed to specific voters and some cannot.”

Of the nine ballots that were discarded and then recovered, Mr. Freed said, seven were cast for Mr. Trump. Two of the discarded ballots “had been resealed inside their appropriate envelopes by Luzerne elections staff prior to recovery by the FBI, and the contents of those 2 ballots are unknown,” he said.

The Justice Department said it began investigating at the Luzerne County Board of Elections after receiving a request from Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis.

The president won the county against the odds four years ago, after Luzerne had voted for Democratic presidential candidates for several decades.

Mr. Trump said it’s one more reason to distrust the integrity of widespread voting by mail.

“They found, I understand, eight ballots in a wastepaper basket in some location,” the president told reporters at the White House. “We want to make sure that the election is honest, and I’m not sure that it can be. I don’t know that it can be with this whole situation, unsolicited ballots — millions being sent to anybody.”

Mr. Trump also said some ballots had been found in a river, but didn’t say where.

“They throw them out if they have the name ‘Trump’ on them, I guess,” he said.

Told by a reporter that the ballots had no name on them, the president replied, “OK, well, they still found them in a river.”

The FBI has not detected any evidence of a widespread fraud conspiracy in this year’s elections, including in ballot-by-mail states, but is vigilant to the possibility, bureau Director Christopher A. Wray said Thursday.

Testifying to the Senate, Mr. Wray said they haven’t seen those efforts in the past, either, partially because it’s tough to succeed.

“Certainly to change a federal election outcome by mounting that kind of fraud at scale would be a major challenge for an adversary, but people should make no mistake, we’re vigilant as to the threat and watching it carefully because we’re uncharted new territory,” he said.

When it comes to attempting to influence American politics, though, he did say China is playing an increasingly large role. That comes a week after he drew the ire of Mr. Trump by singling out Russia during congressional testimony, saying Moscow was trying to “denigrate” the president’s Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden.

“Foreign adversaries will identify trends, divisive issues, in some cases conspiracy theories, that they will then, in effect, piggyback on and amplify and push to suit their own policy goals and propaganda,” he said. “And we see that across a range of adversaries. Russia, of course, but also China, also Iran.”

When it comes to the 2020 election specifically, he said Russia and Iran are using online methods such as social media and placement of fake news stories.

The White House said Thursday that Mr. Trump will accept the results of a “fair” election in November, a day after the president said his reaction would depend on how well mail-in ballots are safeguarded.

“The president will accept the results of a free and fair election,” said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. “He will accept the will of the American people.”

Asked by a reporter Wednesday if he would accept a peaceful transfer of power “win, lose or draw,” the president responded, “We’ll have to see what happens.

“I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots,” Mr. Trump said. “And the ballots are a disaster.”

Mr. Trump noted that former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton urged Mr. Biden recently not to concede the Nov. 3 election under any circumstances.

“But you don’t ask her that question. You only ask me that,” he chided reporters.

Mr. Wray said China’s threat to the election is different than other countries because it has such deeper economic ties to the U.S., giving Beijing a much broader reach to federal, state and local officials, “and they use economic levers very heavily.”

Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, asked Mr. Wray to rank the foreign adversaries in terms of which posed the biggest threat — many Democrats argue Russia is the chief concern.

The FBI chief said it’s not possible to compare the threats that way.

“The Russians are engaging, and as the [intelligence director’s] statement on behalf of the intelligence community says, they’re engaged in a range of measures, but also the Chinese are recently been expanding their influence efforts,” he said.

He said he has expanded the focus of the FBI’s foreign influence task force to include China and Iran because “those countries are very much looking for different ways to take a page out of the malign foreign influence playbook that they’ve seen elsewhere.”

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf on Wednesday, testifying to senators, said all three countries are a threat. And he said while Russia’s efforts are designed to oppose Mr. Biden, China and Iran are active and each “prefers” Mr. Biden to win.

Officials say they haven’t seen attempts to penetrate the election infrastructure itself this year, unlike 2016, when they traced some efforts back to Russia.

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