Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Gregg County Commissioner charged for role in vote harvesting scheme


The Texas Attorney General’s office and the Gregg County District Attorney have filed felony charges against a county commissioner and three alleged accomplices in what officials are calling an “organized vote harvesting scheme” during the 2018 Democratic primary.

A grand jury returned indictments against the four — Commissioner Shannon Brown, his wife Marlena Jackson as well as Charlie Burns and DeWayne Ward — on charges including engaging in organized election fraud, illegal voting and fraudulent use of an application for a mail-in ballot.

Longview District Court Judge Alfonso Charles said bond was set at $25,000 for each defendant, according to the Longview News-Journal.

According to a copy of their indictments, the group helped voters to lie about whether they were disabled, giving them access to mail-in ballots to which they would not have otherwise been entitled, as well as voting assistance. Texas is one of seven states in which all voters are not eligible for mail ballots and need an excuse to get oneif they are under 65 years old.

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The scheme is alleged to have helped Brown beat his primary opponent, Kasha Williams, by just five votes on his way to winning his seat on the commission. Brown’s win was confirmed in a recount, and Williams later filed a civil suit alleging mail-in voting fraud.

The News-Journal reported that county elections administrator Kathryn Nealy had also questioned the disproportionate number of mail-in ballots in Brown’s race, and said she suspected voter fraud in May 2018; later that month, local officials announced they were investigating.

It is not yet clear why getting an indictment in the case took two and a half years; Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the charges in a press release late Thursday with few details.

“This case demonstrates my commitment to ensuring Texas has the most secure elections in the country, and I thank the Gregg County Sheriff and District Attorney for their continued partnership,” Paxton said in a statement Thursday. “Those who try to manipulate the outcome of elections in Texas must be held accountable.”

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The majority of the counts, or 97, were filed against Jackson, while another 23 were filed against Brown, eight against Burns and six against Ward.

In the civil suit filed by Williams in 2018, she alleged that a group of vote harvesters had been operating in the county for years and charged candidates fees for producing mail-in ballots. Williams’ attorney, the late Buck Wood who helped draft Texas ethics and election laws, wrote in the complaint that in his more than 40 years experience, he had only seen one other similar instance of fraud.

The suit cited Facebook photos of voters who had claimed they were disabled on their mail-in ballot applications and said they “clearly show” that the people were not, in fact, disabled.

The charges come as President Donald Trump and Republicans who lead the state government in Texas allege that mail-in voting is more susceptible to fraud, though prosecution of such cases remains low and academic studies have shown that such fraud is extremely rare.

During the 14-year period from 2005 through 2018, the Texas Attorney General’s Election Fraud office has prosecuted 135 people, according to the most recent data available. In 2019, the office prosecuted five people. Most of them have been minor cases that ended with the defendants sent to diversion programs.

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