Headline News
Go Back
2014-10-23

City voting depends on 'person's state of mind'

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The headline on the front page of the Friday, Oct. 10, edition of the San Antonio Express-News read: "Judge's ruling voids Voter ID." In his lead paragraph, E-N staff writer Nolan Hicks explained, "Texas' strict and highly controversial Voter ID law was struck down in a ruling issued late Thursday by a federal judge in Corpus Christi."
The judge's ruling would lead one to believe that no voter fraud is extant in the State of Texas. However, the City of Bandera might prove the exception to that assertion. A rudimentary investigation turned up nearly 75 names on the city's voter registry that might require a closer perusal by local - as well as state - authorities.
The suspect voters were identified by cross-referencing lists of registered voters in the city and municipal utility customers, a telephone book, information available from the Central Appraisal District and various online search programs. If a preliminary inquiry revealed this many alleged problems, a trained investigator would, no doubt, uncover many more.
People living in
Postal Express?
As examples of what might be considered possible voter fraud, some "registered voters" used, as their physical addresses, 805 Main Street, the Family Dollar Store; 301 Main Street, Shoe Biz; 1132 Main Street, Postal Express; 1106 Main Street, the Bandera County EMS Building; 410 Main Street, a office building; and 306 Main Street, Bandera General Store. The primary address of a man purportedly living at the Family Dollar Store was also listed online as being in North Carolina. Other physical addresses being used as primary residences, 1503 and 1103 Main Street, do not appear to exist. At least Election Administrator Toba Perez-Wright couldn't local them on her computer.
Interestingly, another combo home-business address, 1547 Main Street, is not within the city limits. And, while the owner might indeed live in his business, he does not appear to pay city property taxes.
Pipe Creek seems to be a popular "home away from home" for city voters. A woman who owns property in the city has a homestead exemption in Pipe Creek as does another city voter. A man, also eligible to vote in the city, lists the same address in Pipe Creek that is also on his driver's license.
A family of three registered to vote using the address of the now-demolished Frontier Hotel, but their drivers' licenses seem to establish their primary place of abode is in San Antonio.
Other potential voters used addresses that are clearly in the county, among them Country Road, Bandera Boulevard, Chipman Lane, Montague Drive, Country Club Lane, Marie Road, Houston Street, Robindale and Pue Road.
Out of county,
out of state
Portions of Montague Drive and Bandera Boulevard are in both the county and city. Houston Street is in the city's extra-territorial jurisdiction, which extends a half-mile around the municipality. While residents of the ETJ pay for city utilities at a higher rate, they do not pay city property taxes, not paying city taxes indicates non residency, but paying taxes is not a requirement to vote. Amazingly some people registered to vote in the city not only appear to live in other Texas cities, such as Iola, Azle and Maypearl, but, in some cases, out of state entirely, including Las Vegas and Carson City, Nevada; Minnesota; and Colorado. Parenthetically, the couple with contacts in "Rocky Mountain High," also list Adkins, Texas, as a permanent address on their drivers' licenses.
A former resident of 305 Montague, which appears to be owned by the United Methodist Church, reportedly now lives in El Paso, but he's still on the city voter roll. The voter who lives in the EMS building has a Texas driver's license with an address in Dilley.
And, at least seven identified individuals on the preliminary list of questionable voters no longer live in the city but appear to have retained their right to vote in municipal elections.
Then we hit RV parks
Individuals who have listed addresses on their voters' registration card as being in an RV park on Highway 16 North are also problematic because, regardless of what people have assumed for years, that particular RV park is not located within the city limits. Additionally, several of those registered voters carry drivers' licenses that indicate they also have domiciles in Houston, Angleton, Conroe, Lavon, Livingston and San Antonio.
On the south side of Bandera, myriad voters in an RV park have used addresses of 1202 and 1203 Maple Street when registering to vote in the city. Those voters also have other addresses in Tioga, San Antonio, Lewisville, Tomball and Houston.
Other registered voters have several addresses both at businesses in the city and others in the county. One has refined this to include a "physical address" at Postal Express, 1132 Main Street, as well as the RV park at 760 Highway 16 and a third in Houston. Another not only apparently "lives" in an empty trailer at 605 Cypress Street but also in Bandera County. An online search check of one man revealed he currently lives in San Antonio, but has lived in both Kerrville and Tarpley, but never in the City of Bandera.
One city voter lists as her physical address as 207 14th Street, which appears to be in the middle of the Medina River. Ironically, Bandera City Council recently changed a city ordinance to allow the woman to be appointed to a commission because they were all aware she lives in the county.
Myriad city voters have criminal convictions that may - or may not - preclude them from casting a ballot. Voters who offered The Oaks Apartments as a physical address were difficult to verify and consequently, will need further investigation.
Perjury & $2,000 fine
The Texas Voter Registration Application specifically requires a resident address, which does not include a PO Box, Rural Route or business address. If mail cannot be delivered to an applicant's residence, the voter registration card also requires a mailing address. The application also requires a Texas driver's license number or a Texas personal identification number as issued by the Department of Public Safety.
Prior to signing and dating the voter registration, an applicant is asked to affirm: "I understand that giving false information to procure a voter registration is perjury, and a crime under state and federal law. Conviction of this crime may result in imprisonment up to 180 days, a fine up to $2,000 or both."
When apprised that a cursory examination of a list of registered voters in the city seemed to have revealed myriad problems, Bandera County Elections Administrator Toba Perez-Wright indicated she had been aware of the problems "since before I became elections administrator." She was appointed to the position in 2007.
Don't challenge voters
According to Perez-Wright, state officials had advised her and her election workers "not to challenge voters." Essentially, she said, state policy dictates a voter can file a ballot in either the city or county, according to "the person's state of mind." This remark seems to fly in the face of the enacted Texas voter ID law, which, according to Dan Patrick, Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, would "... deter fraud at the polls and helps guarantee the integrity of the ballot box and our government."
Calling the current situation regarding to City of Bandera voter registrants as "an issue," Perez-Wright also described it as "horrible."
She has indicated, however, that letters have been sent to those people who claimed the Postal Express as their physical address. Additionally, apparently the only step she can take to verify a voter is to send out an address confirmation letter. "If a person doesn't respond to the letter, their voting privileges are suspended for two years. At that time, the state purges them from the system," Perez-Wright said. However, she didn't know when the last voter purge had occurred.
"I don't verify addresses when a person registers to vote," she said. "A residency is not something I can challenge voters about."
Perez-Wright indicated the best way to have the voting rolls cleaned up would be to file a complaint with the Office of the Texas Secretary of State. However, in a letter from the Election Divisions Staff of the Office of the Secretary of State, staff attorney Yahitza Nunez wrote that the election administrator should be contacted with a request to "confirm that voters have been placed in the correct city district. Generally, this action is a matter of routine maintenance at a county level (Courier emphasis)." Also, Brenda Vernon from the Office of the Attorney General indicated that "the county or district attorney in Texas has primary jurisdiction to pursue alleged criminal violations of the law." The OAG "can assist with criminal investigations and prosecution at the request of the local officials."
Whopping 82 percent voter registration
According to 2010 census figures, Bandera's population is 857; however, 139 of those counted were under the age of 18, leaving only 718 residents eligible to register to voter. Of the city's 676 registered voters, approximately 87 appear to have been suspended, leaving 589 registered voters. Using these numbers, an incredible 82 percent of the city's population has registered to vote.
While Perez-Wright seemed to indicate that complaints of possible voter fraud in Bandera might not make a ripple in Austin, a 2008 court case might prove otherwise. In the case Jim Willet v. Thomas Cole Jr., MD, an election was contested because an appellate court found that illegal votes had been counted in an election.
According to applicable law, a person must be a qualified voter the day that person offers to vote, a resident of the territory in which the person desires to vote, and meeting any other legal voting requirements for that particular election.
Additionally, elements to be considered in determining a person's residence include volition, intention and action. One element alone is insufficient to establish residency; there must be a nexus among the elements to fix and determine a residence. Evidentiary factors such as presence and intent may be established by conduct such as where a person sleeps and keeps personal belongings such as clothes and furniture.
And, contrary to what political hopefuls have told supporters who live in the county - and beyond - residency is not a "gray area."
As one voter who actually lives - and votes - in the city noted, "All they have to do is identify and fine one fraudulent voter $2,000 and I guarantee this nonsense would stop."