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Rep. Ramon Rivera. Courtesy facebook.

A left-leaning group of local elected officials is fighting back after being accused of benefiting from voter harvesting, an illegal practice in which someone votes in place of someone else. Aaron Harris, executive director of Direct Action Texas, a political advocacy group that urges government transparency and ethics, recently spoke to a packed Fort Worth Elks Lodge to discuss Tarrant County election fraud (“Harvesting Elections,” Oct 19). He alleges that Fort Worth City Councilmember Sal Espino and State Rep. Ramon Romero of Fort Worth benefited from voter harvesting.

Longtime incumbent Espino was reelected to another two-year term in 2015. Romero was elected as state representative in 2014 and is completing his first two-year term. Members of the right-leaning, litigious, and Twitter-happy Attorney General’s office are investigating the allegations.

Espino, Romero, and other Hispanic community leaders accuse Harris’ right-leaning group of trying to disenfranchise elderly and minority voters in the name of partisan politics.

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Harris’ allegations focus on alleged misuse of mail-in ballots, which are available only to voters 65 and over, as well as other select groups. Harris’ opponents say the fact that his research focused on the predominantly Hispanic North Side is not a coincidence.

Speaking at Marine Park last Saturday, Romero made his case publicly to a much smaller crowd than the one that Direct Action Texas attracted. About 25 showed up to listen to Romero, who was accompanied by Espino, Justice of the Peace Sergio De Leon, Constable Ruben Garcia, and several other public officials. (In contrast, the Direct Action Texas meeting drew 10 times as many people.)

“Mr. Aaron Harris, you do not have the right to question seniors about their right to vote or who they voted for,” Romero said, referring to the questioning of seniors by Harris and his staff during their research. “I believe Aaron Harris and Direct Action Texas probably took measures to create their own evidence. I believe that’s where the Attorney General is going to have to focus the next part of his investigation.”

Romero urged any seniors who were harassed or questioned by Harris or his supporters to call his office directly.

“We want them to know they can call me,” he said. “If you want to call and threaten me, too, you can do that as well, because we’ve already gotten those calls.”

Former state representative and one-time Dallas City Councilmember Domingo Garcia spoke next, reminding the audience that it is legal to vote by mail. Texas should be making that process easier, he said.

Garcia announced a $25,000 reward, funded by the Hispanic community advocacy group LULAC, for information leading to the arrest and conviction of “anyone trying to intimidate a senior in Fort Worth or anywhere in Texas.”

The nonprofit community service-focused United Hispanic Council of Tarrant County announced at the press conference that it has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. The letter states that “Direct Action Texas, headed by Aaron Harris, has attempted to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation with seniors and political activists exclusively from the Hispanic neighborhoods of North Side and Diamond Hill in Tarrant County.”

Harris’ group says it has uncovered enough fraudulent ballots to call into question Espino’s win over Steve Thornton by 26 votes in May 2015, as well as Romero’s unseating of longtime Democratic incumbent Lon Burnam in March 2014.

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