By State Rep. Aaron Peña
Voter fraud and the manipulation of the election process is a cost of doing business in many communities in Hidalgo County. Candidates are faced with paying an exorbitant amount of money to party bosses and politiqueras who hold these elections ransom. Just yesterday, my office received a copy of 88 election complaints filed by concerned citizens of a small community in the Delta Area.
I am a proud resident of Hidalgo County. Our communities are filled with good, hardworking people and most of those committed to public service do so honorably but there is a current of apathy or intimidation or in some instances collusion that contributes to a climate that allows for bullies to flourish.
In some of our most vulnerable communities, in those that struggle to provide basic services to their residents, political machines and politiqueras have found a weakness in current law that has allowed these individuals to virtually vote hundreds of times in an election. Voter assistance as codified in the election code allows for a voter to receive assistance in casting a ballot if they are disabled or cannot read. In a series of stories written in the McAllen Monitor, reporters shed light on the practice.
In the 2010 Democratic Primary, nearly a third of the votes cast in the Delta Area were assisted. In the city of Hidalgo’s May 2012 election 22.5% of votes cast were assisted. Reports are coming in from across Hidalgo County that the practice is rampant in certain communities during this primary election.
The seeming simple act of assisting a voter in and of itself is an asset to the electoral process. Those with a physical disability or the inability to read a ballot should be provided with the opportunity for assistance.
It is the exploitation of this clause that has allowed bosses, machines and politiqueras to corrupt the process. They have forced themselves into the voting booth by intimidation.
County, municipal and school employees, their families and friends are assisted by these unscrupulous vote harvesters who report back to the machines with a certainty that these votes were cast in their favor. Hidalgo County election officials have instructed poll workers to not question those seeking assistance for fear of violating federal law.
In many cases those assisting voters simply cast their ballots for them.
I filed three bills in 2011 in an attempt to curb this practice.
- House Bills 304 and 2587 limited the instance that one could assist to two per day and provided a civil and criminal penalty respectively. They allowed for reasonable exceptions for those assisting family members, employees assisting residents of nursing homes and sign language interpreters.
- House Bill 2051 would have amended the oath a person who provides assistance to a voter is required to take to include a statement affirming that the person is not the voter’s employer, an agent of the voter’s employer, or an officer or agent of a labor union to which the voter belongs.
These bills seemed like reasonable attempts to curb a practice that is harming our communities but they were vociferously opposed by Democrats. The bills did not pass.
Open and honest elections are basic tenets of our great nation. Our democracy gives us an opportunity to hold those elected accountable.
Voter fraud has such a corrupting influence in some of our communities, and we must demand better.