Second arrest made in Starr County voter fraud investigation

RIO GRANDE CITY — Starr County authorities have made a second arrest in their investigation into voter fraud.

Erika Lozano-Pelayo, 37, was arrested Thursday afternoon on charges of election fraud and fraudulent application for ballot by mail, confirmed 229th District Attorney Omar Escobar. The offenses are a Class A misdemeanor and a state jail felony, respectively.

The Starr County Elections Department discovered that an application for a ballot by mail was allegedly submitted by Lozano-Pelayo for a voter who had already died.

The application was signed and dated in December 2017 after the voter had died earlier that month, Escobar said, and was then mailed last month.

The investigation was launched in January by the district attorney’s office after the county elections department notified him of questionable applications for mail-in ballots.

Escobar said he had made efforts to notify the public about changes to the election law through posts on social media.

Changes to the law were made through Senate Bill 5. The law, which went into effect on Dec. 1, 2017, made it a state jail felony to provide false information on an application or submit it without the voter’s consent.

“What we want is for everybody to follow the election rules,” Escobar said. “We put plenty of advance notice of the election law.”

He said there was at least another case of an application that was submitted for a deceased voter, but that one is still being investigated.

Ernestina Barron, 50, was the first arrested in the case. Apprehended Monday by the Starr County Special Crimes Unit, Barron was charged with three counts of election fraud and as many counts of fraudulent application for ballot by mail.