Unsolicited Absentee Ballots Raise Eyebrows in Dallas

Voter integrity advocates say Texas case latest example of why tighter election protections needed

Even as Texas hit another speed bump in its drive to require photo identification at the polls, a Dallas pastor this week offered a powerful reminder of why advocates want tighter ballot security in the first place.

James Armstrong, pastor of Community Fellowship Church in West Dallas, told local media that at least 10 members of his church have said they received absentee ballots for next month’s municipal election even though they did not ask for them.

“West Dallas has a history of being taken advantage of, and it’s really unbelievable that in 2017 we are still being disenfranchised.”

“West Dallas has a history of being taken advantage of, and it’s really unbelievable that in 2017 we are still being disenfranchised,” he told NBC 5.

Armstrong told the station that the parishioners, all senior citizens, filed complaints to the Dallas County Elections office.

“It’s just a travesty that we are dealing with this,” he said. “Seniors who have lived in this neighborhood all of their life and are now being taken advantage of.”

Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippens-Poole told LifeZette that her office has received 43 complaints, including seven on Tuesday. She said her office and the district attorney’s office is reviewing those applications, as well as other applications for absentee ballots.

“We’re researching each and every one of those complaints,” she said. “What we want to tell voters is we’re very serious about this. We want to make sure we count the right ballots, not the fraudulent ballots.”

Pippens-Poole said authorities have not determined if anyone has committee intentional fraud. But she added that anyone who has received an unsolicited ballot should take it to the polling place on Election Day in order to cast a ballot in person. She said her office has sent out about 5,000 absentee ballots, a typical number for a countywide election.

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Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, said the Dallas incident is not isolated.

“It does speak to a larger problem,” he told LifeZette. “I was seeing scores and scores of complaints similar to this during the election in 2016.”

In November, the Dallas Morning News reported that least 15 elderly voters showed up a polling place in West Dallas only to discover that people had submitted absentee ballots in their names.

Whether the latest Dallas case is a sign of an organized fraud campaign or mere sloppiness, it is a problem that elections officials need to address, Churchwell said.

“Are we taking care of the voter rolls the way they should be?” he asked.

Dallas voters will go to the polls on May 6. Community Fellowship Church is in City Council District 6, where incumbent Monica Alonzo — who also is mayor pro tem — faces five challengers.

Churchwell said the absentee ballot system in Texas has gaping deficiencies that need to be addressed. He noted that the state requires little from people requesting absentee ballots.

“As long as you have a name and address of another voter, you’re good to go,” he said. “You don’t even need to give a birth date.”

Churchwell said the state should require a driver’s license number, passport number, or other unique identifier that only the voter should know.

“Essentially, what we’re going for is voter ID for mail ballots,” he said.

Churchwell noted that even critics of voter ID laws concede that voter fraud is most common in absentee balloting.

But Texas suffered a setback on Monday when a federal judge ruled that the photo-ID requirement that Texas passed in 2011 for in-person voting was intended to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters.

It is the second time that U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, ruled against the state. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously held that Ramos relied too heavily on the state’s history of discrimination and instructed her to re-examine the issue. She reached the same conclusion Monday.

Churchwell downplayed the significance of the ruling.

“Is it a big surprise that this Obama nominee reached her same conclusion?” he asked. “No.”

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Churchwell expressed confidence that the 5th Circuit would reject the finding of intentional discrimination. He said he also believes that the appellate court would be satisfied that Texas has taken steps to address concerns the judges had that the voter ID law had a disparate impact on minorities. He said the Texas legislature is close to passing a law allowing voters without a valid ID to vote by signing an affidavit.

It is important for Texas and other states to clean up their voter rolls, Churchwell said. The Public Interest Legal Foundation has filed dozens of lawsuits against elections officials across the country, trying to force them to remove the names of dead voters and those who have moved away. One of those suits is in Texas, in Starr County.

Another watchdog group, Judicial Watch, announced Tuesday that it will sue 11 states if they do not make changes to the voter rolls. Those states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Tennessee — all have counties where there are more registered voters than voting-age adults.

“Dirty election rolls can mean dirty elections,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a prepared statement. “These 11 states face possible Judicial Watch lawsuits unless they follow the law and take reasonable steps to clean up their voting rolls of dead, moved, and non-citizen voters.”