EDITORIAL: Real reform: Voter fraud can be stopped by focus on the right targets

A federal judge in San Antonio last week rightly stopped a massive purge of Texas voting rolls, which invalidated the registration of many eligible voters and led to several lawsuits.

Acting Texas Secretary of State David Whitley had flagged some 95,000 voter registration records and ordered county elections officials to either verify or drop them. Whitley noted that records matched names on Department of Public Safety databases that indicated people with those names were not citizens, and about 58,000 of them had been used to vote in recent elections.

Evidence later showed that many of those on the purge list were foreign-born, but were naturalized citizens and had every right to vote.

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery of San Antonio, in stopping the purge, correctly noted that Whitley’s premise for the action — widespread voter fraud — has never been proven.

Existing precautions should catch most people who might try to vote illegally. We can assume that any of the 58,000 people showed the requisite photo identification and proof of citizenship if they voted in person. Reports of improper voting, or of people turned away from polling sites, are virtually non-existent.

Cases of voter fraud have occurred, although they have been few. And some of them have occurred right here in the Rio Grande Valley.

Generally, they don’t involve on-site voting, but the use of mail-in and absentee ballots. And often they are linked to paid vote-getters known as politiqueras, who take money from candidates in return for the promise of a certain number of votes.

Politiqueras deliver many of those votes by visiting group living centers such as nursing homes and having residents request mail-in ballots; often the politiqueras actually request the forms themselves, in the residents’ names. Once they are in hand, the people tell the residents on how to fill them out, rather than allowing them to make their own decisions. Again, sometimes the politiqueras prepare the ballots instead of the voters.

Another practice is to take residents to polling places in vans or buses, enter the voting booths with them and fill out the ballots instead of merely translating or assisting the voters.

Certainly, state law must allow multiple requests for mail-in ballots to one address, because nursing homes or other community living centers will have several eligible voters who can’t go to the polling place. Assistance in voting also must be allowed for those who need translation or physical assistance when they go to vote.

But the practice of paying for votes should be addressed. Some people who are paid to deliver mass numbers of votes might feel pressure to use whatever means necessary, within or outside of the law, to get the votes — and thus get the candidates’ money.

The time to file new bills in the current legislative session has passed. For the next session in two years, however, lawmakers should consider addressing the real threat to our elections — the buying and selling of votes by candidates and politiqueras.