RIO GRANDE CITY — An investigation into voter fraud is ongoing in Starr County, according to 229th District Attorney Omar Escobar.
The Starr County elections department alerted his office to questionable applications for mail-in ballots, Escobar said, and they have reason to believe people may have lied on those applications.
The district attorney said he has made efforts to update the public on Senate Bill 5, legislation that went into effect on Dec. 1, 2017, which makes it a state jail felony to provide false information on an application or submit an application without the voter’s consent.
Escobar said his office is in contact with the Texas Attorney General’s office to determine the applicability of the new law on the suspected conduct.
“ Our legislature has given us a very clear mandate to begin and try to prevent voter fraud,” Escobar said about launching the investigation.
In addition to possible false statements, he said they have found a few instances of non-citizens who were registered to vote, which he attributed to unchecked voter rolls.
The county elections department is already embroiled in a legal dispute over its voter rolls.
In 2016, the American Civil Rights Union filed a lawsuit against the elections department, accusing the county of violating Section 8 of the National Voting Rights Act by failing to keep an accurate list of registered voters. In their suit, they alleged the number of registered voters in the county exceeded the number of eligible voters.
In an effort to clean up the rolls, Escobar said his office gave the elections department a list of people who are on regular felony probation, meaning they been convicted of a crime and are ineligible to vote.
The news of possible voter fraud comes amidst already heightened tensions in an election season with about 40 candidates running in the March primary elections. It was for those elections that the mail-in ballot applications that are being scrutinized were submitted.
As the investigation continues, Escobar said he anticipates other agencies will join the probe.