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Aaron Harris from Direct Action Texas, LLC. photo: youtube.com

Few issues stir up the right-wing base like anchor babies, universal healthcare, and voter fraud. While newborns and public health seem like curious targets for political attacks, even card-carrying pinkos would agree that protecting our electoral system is of paramount importance.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently announced four arrests related to an ongoing investigation into Tarrant County voter fraud. In late 2016, Aaron Harris, executive director of the conservative watchdog group Direct Action Texas, said that he had uncovered evidence of mail-in ballot fraud. The voting option is offered to people who are disabled, absentee (which usually means living overseas), or over 65. Harris said politicians working primarily on the North Side were misleading senior citizens into voting for particular candidates. In other cases, Harris said he had evidence that canvassers were filling out forms without the elderly or disabled voters’ knowledge. The incidents of vote harvesting were brought to the AG’s attention two years ago, and the Weekly was the first news media outlet to publish the dozen names Harris handed to the AG’s office for investigation in a broad story about the politics of voter fraud (“Voter Fraud or Business as Usual?” Dec 15, 2016). Now it appears that the first arrests from that probe have been made.

“Four individuals were indicted on 30 felony counts of voter fraud and arrested following a lengthy investigation by the Election Fraud Unit of” the AG’s office, Paxton said in a recent statement. “The defendants — all members of an organized voter fraud ring — were paid to target elderly voters in certain [North Side] Fort Worth precincts in a scheme to generate a large number of mail ballots and then harvest those ballots for specific candidates in 2016.”

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The AG’s office hasn’t disclosed which Fort Worth candidates hired the female canvassers now facing criminal charges, but Harris has long maintained that former Fort Worth City Councilmember Sal Espino and State Rep. Ramon Romero benefited from the vote-harvesting ring. Espino and Romero vehemently deny any wrongdoing and say Harris is simply trying to intimidate the Hispanic community into avoiding the polls.

Even with the recent arrests, we believe isolated incidents of voter fraud are a non-issue. Voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the purging of voter rolls are much bigger problems and way bigger threats to democracy, but since they overwhelmingly affect only non-Republicans — and since Texas is bigly red — you can expect more time wasted on “fraud.”

Minorities could also help themselves by showing up at the polls. In 2016, Texas Monthly reported that “non-Hispanic whites constituted just 43 percent of the state’s population, but in 2016, they represented more than 65 percent of all the votes cast.” Those votes go overwhelmingly to Republican candidates, according to the Pew Research Center.

No matter how these arrests and others related to Tarrant County’s vote harvesting investigation turn out, one grim result stands out. Parts of our Hispanic community, after witnessing AG staff question Northside residents and arrest four locals, might be intimidated away from the voting booth come November.

That probably doesn’t worry Paxton. Locking up Hispanic men, women, and children seems to be the new vogue in Texas. 

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