GREGG COUNTY, Texas (KLTV) - A Gregg County commissioner along with three others have been arrested on charges in connection with an organized vote harvesting scheme during the 2018 Democratic primary election.
According to Attoney General Ken Paxton’s office, Gregg County commissioner Shannon Brown, Marlena Jackson, Charlie Burns, and DeWayne Ward were arrested. A press release said to increase the pool of ballots needed to swing the race in Brown’s favor, the group targeted young, able-bodied voters to cast ballots by mail by fraudulently claiming the voters were “disabled,” in most cases without the voters' knowledge or consent. Under Texas election law, mail ballots based on disability are specifically reserved for those who are physically ill and cannot vote in-person as a result.
The release said in total, the state filed 134 felony charges against the four defendants, including engaging in organized election fraud, illegal voting, fraudulent use of an application for a mail-in ballot, unlawful possession of a mail-in ballot, tampering with a governmental record, and election fraud. Penalties for these offenses range from six months in state jail to 99 years in prison.
“It is an unfortunate reality that elections can be stolen outright by mail ballot fraud. Election fraud, particularly an organized mail ballot fraud scheme orchestrated by political operatives, is an affront to democracy and results in voter disenfranchisement and corruption at the highest level,” said Attorney General Paxton. “Mail ballots are vulnerable to diversion, coercion, and influence by organized vote harvesting schemes. This case demonstrates my commitment to ensuring Texas has the most secure elections in the country, and I thank the Gregg County Sheriff and District Attorney for their continued partnership. Those who try to manipulate the outcome of elections in Texas must be held accountable.”
A grand jury returned indictments on 23 felony counts against Commissioner Brown, 97 felony counts against Marlena Jackson, eight felony counts against Charlie Burns, and six felony counts against DeWayne Ward. The Office of the Attorney General was assisted by the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office during the investigation. The Texas Attorney General will prosecute this case alongside the Gregg County District Attorney.
According to a joint press release from state Sen. Bryan Hughes and state Rep. Jay Dean, 366 mail ballot applications, all based on disabilities, were requested in Precinct 4, while a total of 12 were located in all other Gregg County precincts. While Kasha Williams defeated Brown by more than 20 votes in in-person voting, 73 percent of thte 366 mail ballot votes were cast for Brown, who won the election by five votes.
“Voting by mail is an important tool for our over-65 and disabled citizens. Mail-in ballots are also most vulnerable to cheating and fraud. We must protect Texas election integrity and we will.” said Senator Hughes.
“The alleged account of voter fraud appears so clearly to be a problem in our districts, but we are encouraged by the attention it has brought to the issue, both here and statewide, and by the opportunity to fix this problem,” Dean said.