Harris County Clerk Reports Rise in Illegal Voting

The Harris County Clerk's office reports more than 1,000 people may have voted illegally in the Texas Primary. The county will launch an investigation to determine whether the illegal votes were intentional or a mistake. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

Staffmembers in Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman's office delivered boxes of evidence to the District Attorney. The boxes are filled with paper trails that indicate 1,165 people may have violated the Texas election code by voting twice.

Kaufman says there are generally a handful of double votes each election year. But this is the first time the numbers have exceeded triple digits.

"Because we had over 1,100 cases where we have evidence that voters may have voted either in both primaries or voted twice in the same primary, we thought we should not only take this information to the District Attorney as we routinely do, but we should make a public issue out of it."

Under the Texas Election Code, knowingly voting twice is a third degree felony. It's punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Kaufman says she thinks many of the double votes were deliberate attempts to affect the outcome of the election. But she also believes many of them were accidental.

"We had a lot of first-time voters in this primary because of the high interest in the primaries for president, based on the kind of phone calls that we received asking questions about what to do. And unfortunately a lot of times these voters are getting their information on the street so to speak. They're hearing something said in a political commercial that they misinterpret and so they may go out and just make maybe one of the biggest boo-boos of their life."

In 460 cases people cast a ballot during early voting and again on election day. Of those 460 cases, 459 were in the Democratic primary. In the other 705 cases people voted in one party's primary and then later voted in the other primary.

"We know it's a huge temptation when you have a lot of interest on both sides. And we don't register by political party in Texas, so you've got the ability to do that. We do keep records of who votes early, in person and by mail. And the election judges are provided lists so that the early voters should be deterred from trying to vote on election day. If an election judge does not properly enter those records into their poll books then a voter could probably slip through and be able to cast the ballot. And there's evidence that some of this may have happened."

Kaufman says the improper voting did not originate in any one precinct. It appears to be spread evenly across the county.

The Harris County District Attorney's office is now charged with investigating each of the cases. The DA declines to comment until the investigation is complete.

Laurie Johnson. Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...