A grassroots investigation into thousands of questionable mail-in election ballots led to a state investigation into what is being called the largest voter fraud investigation in Texas History.
Aaron Harris, executive director of North Richland Hills-based government transparency advocacy group Direct Action Texas, on Monday discussed his more than year-long investigation into irregularities in mail-in ballot voting that he said led to two local races in Tarrant County being won by fraud and possibly more.
Harris said his findings were turned over the Texas Secretary of State, who brought in the enforcement division of the Office of the Attorney General.
Neither agency has commented on the investigation but both Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton repeated messages on social meeting about the investigation of voter fraud.
“Largest voter fraud investigation in Texas history underway in Tarrant County. We will crush illegal voting,” Gov. Greg Abbott stated on social media.
Harris said after the devastating defeat of two candidates he supported in the 2015 race for two open seats on the Tarrant Regional Water District board he began looking into the cause of the loss and found a large number of mail-in votes that contained mismatched and apparent computer-generated signatures between applications and carrier envelopes for mail-in the ballots.
Along with other irregularities such as apparently similar signatures on a large number of ballots suggested a type of election fraud known as vote harvesting.
Upon further examination of mail-in ballots in other races that year and other years, he said he detected widespread use of vote harvesting to collect votes from unsuspecting voters to influence the outcome of the election. He said he found about 20,000 questionable ballots over four years.
Typically, paid harvesters go door-to-door offering to help mostly poor and limited English-speaking people apply for mail-in ballots.
Once the ballots arrive by mail, the harvester returns to influence the voter’s decision in a race or steals the ballot from the voter’s mailbox and fills it out.
The harvesters “prey on the people they claim they are protecting.”
Harris said he found evidence of vote harvesting in about a dozen races involving Fort Worth city, school board, water district board and a state and Congressional representative race.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said the county election’s office, which administers most local elections, has a system of checks and balances to examine mail-in ballots to prevent this type of fraud.
He said Tarrant County received applications for 20,111 mail-in ballots last year and more than 19,000 were email applications, which explains why so many applications had computer-generated signatures.
However, Whitley did acknowledge that “mail-in ballots present the best opportunity to commit election fraud.”
Mail-in ballots are commonly used in all elections to collect the votes of residents living overseas, members of the military and aged and infirmed voters who cannot appear at the polls in person.
Voting by mail-in ballot does not require any type of voter identification, Harris said.
Harris said through data research and interviews in the community, he traced the mastermind of the fraud to a “organization with deep Republican ties.”
But, he said the fraud does not appear to be tied to “ideological” or political causes.
“It’s all about money, power and graft,” Harris said.
The alleged activity Harris discovered does not have any connection to the upcoming Nov. 8 election.
In fact, he said, he has not seen any evidence of wrongdoing in any November elections he has looked into.
“This is a springtime offense,” he said, mostly targeting primary and local election voters.
Also, the mail-in ballot fraud allegations are not connected to the requirements of Texas voter ID laws that aim to prevent fraud at the polls.
After Direct Action Texas turned over its evidence to Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, his office reached out to the Attorney General to pursue a criminal investigation.
“After a review of the submitted documentation, we believe the information regarding the offenses warrants a submission for criminal investigation to the Texas Attorney General,” states a Jan. 22 letter from the Secretary of State to David Maxwell, director of law enforcement for the Attorney General.
The partially-redacted letter was posted on the website of Direct Action.
The letter outlines violations such as forgery and tampering with a governmental record, improper assistance and improperly serving as a witness for multiple voters.
Offenses range from Class B misdemeanors to state jail felonies.
Direct Action Texas was also involved in an investigation of election irregularities in Hill County, where March Republican primary results showed that 9,038 votes were cast but only 7,518 voters were marked as having voted. The organization’s examination of signatures on “combination forms” showed that only 7,295 voters cast ballots.
“It’s scary and incredible,” he said.