Texas officials announced charges Thursday 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 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 disabled. The voters in question were young and not disabled, 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.
Ms. Williams said in a lawsuit she would have won by four votes if the ballot-harvesting hadn’t taken place.
Her claims spurred the attorney general’s investigation, which had been going on for two years.
A grand jury handed up a 134-count indictment Wednesday 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.
The case comes as President Trump complains about ballot-by-mail procedures in many states amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In most states, voters have to request an absentee ballot in advance, and in some of those states, including Texas, they must have a specific excuse.
But amid the coronavirus pandemic, a number of jurisdictions have said they will send ballots to every registered voter in order to ease their ability to vote.
Mr. Trump says that increases chances for fraud and he has urged election officials to reject some mail-in ballots.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud at the national level, including in vote-by-mail measures, and he said it would be difficult to sway the election that way.
There have been instances of local fraud where it’s been consequential, though.
“Mail ballots are vulnerable to diversion, coercion, and influence by organized vote harvesting schemes,” Mr. Paxton said.