Texas Two Step: House stiffens penalties for nursing home ballot fraud while repealing a bipartisan solution.

Good morning Austin:

Toward the end of the regular session, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bipartisan voter fraud bill that promised to expand voting by residents of nursing homes even as it eliminated the possibility of fraud.

But Abbott also included further cracking down on ballot fraud on the agenda for the special session, and yesterday he tweeted his approval of legislation approved by the House responsive to his call.

Only, the new bill he touted yesterday would repeal a key part of the bill he touted, and signed into law, in May, before it ever had a chance to go into effect.

It was an especially heartbreaking turn of events for Rep. Tom Oliverson, the Cypress Republican who I wrote about recently on  First Reading: Be nice and carry a gun: Freshman of the year Rep. Tom Oliverson’s nuanced take on the special session.

As I wrote then, Oliverson was most proud of having crafted:

A BIPARTISAN ANSWER TO NURSING HOME ABSENTEE BALLOT FRAUD

Oliverson was able to put together a bipartisan coalition behind a measure, that was ultimately folded into an election reform bill, to deal with the problem of agents of different candidates fraudulently filling out absentee forms for unsuspecting nursing home residents.

Oliverson:

You’re not going to steal a presidential election with mail ballot fraud but you could affect a primary. You could win a school board race. you could perhaps win a county judge or a county commissioner race in a rural county.

We started the process with some very conservative stakeholders in Harris county Ed Johnson (senior director in the IT department of the Harris County Clerk’s office, and Alan Vera (former national poll watcher trainer for True the Vote).

The first week of session, Glenn Maxey (a former Democratic state representative from Austin and now legislative director for Texas Democratic Party) walks in this office – never met him before. He came to see me. He said, “I want to help.”

Any time we can get both parties to agree that there a) is fraud b) that’s right here and c) that we can fix it, it’s something we have to pursue.

Under Oliverson’s plan, borrowed form a successful practice in Wisconsin, “eelection judges go in as team to the nursing homes and manually the ballots are completed in front of them and they collect ballots from the residents. You’ve just removed the opportunity to commit fraud.”

Glenn suggested I go tot talk to (Austin Rep.) Celia Israel, she’s vice chair of Elections, and Glenn, he told me flat-out, he just said, “In my party she is probably the most respected name in terms of elections for us.” He said you should go talk to her I think she’ll really like this bill.

I did. She said, “Let me think about it,” and she got back to me the next day, “I really like it .”

“I’d like you to be my co-author,” Oliverson told Israel, who agreed. He talked with Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, who chairs the Elections Committee, and she joined as co-author.

I talked to Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas).  He walked me right over to Eric Johnson ‘s desk – “This almost got him in his election.”

Oliverson said Johnson, another Dallas Democrat, told him:

This is ground zero for me. Can I be a joint author? This is what’s happening in my back yard.

But yesterday, Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who had been tapped by the governor along with Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, to guide the voter fraud legislation in the special session, amended the bill to repeal Oliverson’s measure, which would have gone into effect Sept. 1.

Here, from yesterday’s debate.

Oliverson:

As some of you have heard, one of the provisions of this amendment is that it completely repeals a bill which we passed actually twice with super majorities, bipartisanship, a bill that came out of the Elections Committee unanimously, and I just want to clear a few things up because one of the things that I heard is,   and I know some of you were told, is “Man, this bill should have never passed. It was deeply flawed, It was a terrible bill.”

And I just got to tell you, I’ve got a copy of the bill right in front of me, the bill that was added to Rep. (Diego) Bernal’s (D-San Antonio) bill, and I have gone through it line by line, and I have looked at every change as compared to when we filed it and how it came out of the Elections Committee, and the committee substitute, and I can account for every change, and most of the changes that are in here were things like, we established a minimum bed number, we deleted hospitals, we made an exception for small facilities with a small number of beds.

These were all changes that the election clerks came to us and they asked for and the thing about this bill, and the thing about this whole process that is very frustrating to me – I understand that it’s an unfunded mandate, I understand that it’s going to cause some of our election clerks, or all of our election clerks, to do more work and I’m sorry about that. I really am.

But to come up here and say, for for anyone to say, that somehow this product was hijacked, it was corrupted, it was a bad product, it’s just patently false. So unless somebody wants to get on the back mic and go through line by line and show me exactly where in this bill it is corrupted (slaps his hand into the podium) or where it’s flawed, then I don’t want to hear any more of that.

The second thing I wanted to say is that one of the things that makes people uneasy about this bill – and this is really sad, I want you to think about this for a minute – one of the things that makes people uneasy about this bill is the fact that it is a bipartisan election fraud bill, as if to suggest that it is not possible, never has been, never will be, for Republicans and Democrats to agree that there is election fraud, it affects us all and it’s something we want to work on together, and that it’s something we want to come up with a solution we can all agree on.

(Inhales deeply) And I just think that’s sad. I think it’s sad that there are people in the body, that there are people out there listening to me talk right now, that are naturally suspicious of anything that has to do with election fraud that’s bipartisan. They don’t necessarily want to give it a fair hearing, because they assume that if the party that’s not my party is for this bill, then it must be bad for me. And I think that’s sad, members, that we can’t come together on these issues and work together in a bipartisan way.

So I get it. We’ve come too far too fast. I understand that there are some concerns.

I have an amendment, which I’m not going to offer, but I have an amendment here, that would have actually cleaned up a lot of those concerns and things that were brought to me. It includes suggestions from the attorney general’s office, the secretary of state’s office, we continue to work with our election administrators and the clerks.

But we’re going to blow it up, and we’re going to pretend that it never happened, because we’ve gotten cold feet and we’ve come too far too fast, and I guess all I can say is, you know at one point people thought the world was flat and the sun revolved around the Earth.

But I will tell you this. I’m not a prosecutor. I’m not a lawyer. I’ve been told these cases are hard to prosecute. I’m told they are difficult to prove. They’re difficult to find.

What was unique about this bill, that we are now going to blow up and repeal, was that instead of punishing somebody after they commit a crime, we were actually taking away the opportunity to commit a crime.

Now I know, I’ve heard some people say, “No, no, no. That’s not true. It will open up the possibility for more fraud.” You know where that come from? Let me tell you where that comes from. That comes from an insecurity of the fact that our bill allows for someone who is registered to vote, a legal registered vote, residing at the nursing home, who did not previously request a ballot by mail, but is eligible for a ballot by mail, to get a ballot by mail and to be able to vote on the spot, subject to filling out an application for ballot by mail, and going through the same judging process to make sure that this was a legitimate process, as we see with many of our other election security things.

But I think it’s sad that at the end of the day, we’re more interested in punishing offenders then in preventing crime. I may not be a lawyer, but I am a doctor, and I will tell you flat-out, there’s an old saying in health care, and that is that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure any time.

And so with that members, I am going to be voting on this bill, I hope you will excuse me that I do not want to blow up my own work product I believe in very strongly. However, I will say that I encourage those of you who are listening to me right now to follow the author on his amendment. We will come back in two years. We will try again, and I will keep fighting.

Laubenberg, who chairs the Elections Committee, came to the back mic to thank Oliverson for his work on the issue.

“I think everyone in the body, Republican or Dermocat, want to make it easy for legitimate voters to vote,” she said.

Oliverson said he “wanted people to have as many opportunities to legitimately vote and to protect their vote.”

Laubenberg, who under the rules of engagement had to be asking Oliverson a question said, “I just want to thank you, how do I put it in  a question? Can I thank you for your work and your willingness to work with everyone, will you accept?

Oliverson said yes and thank you.

But let’s pause here to hear from someone who was not thankful for what Oliverson had tried to do – Aaron Harris of Direct Action Texas, a conservative advocacy group in the DFW area.

 

That’s cheap freshman of  the year, buddy because, after all, Oliverson was chosen by the members of the House Republican caucus as the outstanding member of their freshman class.

Here, from a few days ago on Direct Action’s website:

House Ballot Fraud Bill – HB184 vs. HB47

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The special session is nearing an end and the Governor’s call for increased penalties for mail in voter fraud has stalled in the House in the form of HB 184.

There is a lot of discussion, driven largely by our office, as to the differences between HB184 by Goldman and HB47 by Schofield. We are fighting FOR HB184;, let me tell you why.

First, let me back up and discuss something that happened during regular session. The TX Legislature passed a bill we now refer to as the “nursing home” bill. This  flew under the radar and was added at the last minute as an amendment. This bill opens up every nursing home in Texas to ballot harvesting. It creates an unfunded mandate on every county, and many, many other problematic details. The Democrat party has been bragging about getting this bill passed. One party official even bragged that the Dem party has already calculated this bill will get them nearly 300,000 additional harvested ballots. They did the math;, they wrote the bill;, they got it passed. THIS IS A VERY BIG PROBLEM. This week over 100 county election administrators signed a letter opposing this legislation.

The main difference between HB184 and HB47, both as amended, is that HB184 FULLY REPEALS the nursing home bill. Let me be clear – the “nursing home” bill is flawed at every level, it cannot be “fixed”, but  must be repealed. HB47 naively attempts to patch the “nursing home” bill. This is like trying to fix Obamacare. Repeal and Replace is the only viable choice. This difference alone is worth the fight.

OK, but something doesn’t parse here.

Oliverson said the idea behind his bill originated with Alan Vera, formerly of True the Vote, which is, I thought, as conservative a voting watchdog as you’re going to find, and who is now the chief of ballot security for the Harris County GOP, which I presume is as interested in winning elections there as Republicans in Tarrant County want to win elections where they are.

The bill had buy-in from heavyweights in the state Republican Party.

And, while Oliverson said both the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office called him Wednesday to tell him that they wanted his measure repealed, support for the measure among Harris County Republicans seems to have held fast.

In fact, another Harris County Republican, Rep. Kevin Roberts, R-Spring, came to the back mic to ask Oliverson what he should tell Vera, who had sent the party’s Harris County House delegation a long email, expressing his distress that Goldman’s “amendment  to SB 5 eliminating the new nursing home ballot process.

Reading from Vera’s email, Roberts said, “We’re at a loss to understand these planned actions  when the call for the special session specially highlighted the need to further reduce mail ballot fraud. This new effort to repeal the nursing home mail ballot process makes no sense. Under the current system, mail ballots sent to nursing homes and assisted living centers are a ballot harvester’s dream. My question is why are we repealing this?”

Oliverson:

I would answer that two ways. I think you have a legitimate concern among our election administrators and clerks that there is an unfunded mandate attached to that bill. There is. There will be dollars and we can’t exactly say how much that will be. I doubt it will be a significant amount of money, but I guess it could be.

As to the rest of this, I can’t answer your question. I really don’t know.

I’m sitting here with a copy of my bill. We vetted it very carefully. Everybody from True the Vote on the right to the Democrat Party of Texas on the left, and everybody signed off on every change that we made on this bill so, to your point, this was a carefully vetted, carefully thought-out process. It allows the secretary of state discretion in writing rules to anticipate or deal with situations that may not be able to be anticipated that could arise, that would allow for it to be implemented in the least painful process but at the same time preserve the integrity of our elections and make sure that our seniors votes aren’t harvested.

Here is the vote on the amendment repealing Oliverson’s provision, with Oliverson, present, not voting.

SB 5 – (consideration continued)
Amendment No. 5, as amended, was adopted by (Record 99): 89 Yeas, 48
Nays, 3 Present, not voting.
Yeas — Anderson, C.; Anderson, R.; Ashby; Bailes; Bell; Biedermann;
Bohac; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Burkett; Burns; Burrows; Button; Cain;
Capriglione; Clardy; Cook; Cosper; Craddick; Dale; Darby; Davis, S.; Dean;
Elkins; Faircloth; Fallon; Flynn; Frank; Frullo; Geren; Goldman; Gonzales;
Gooden; Hefner; Herrero; Holland; Huberty; Isaac; Kacal; King, K.; King, P.;
Klick; Koop; Krause; Kuempel; Lambert; Landgraf; Lang; Larson; Laubenberg;
Lozano; Metcalf; Meyer; Miller; Morrison; Murphy; Murr; Neave; Paddie;
Parker; Paul; Phelan; Phillips; Price; Raney; Rinaldi; Roberts; Sanford; Schaefer;
Schofield; Schubert; Shine; Simmons; Smithee; Springer; Stephenson; Stickland;
Stucky; Swanson; Thompson, E.; Tinderholt; VanDeaver; Villalba; White;
Wilson; Workman; Wray; Zedler; Zerwas.
Nays — Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Anchia; Areval; Bernal; Blanco;
Coleman; Collier; Cortez; Davis, Y.; Dukes; Dutton; Farrar; Gervin-Hawkins;
Giddings; Guerra; Guillen; Gutierrez; Hernandez; Hinojosa; Howard; Israel;
Johnson, E.; Johnson, J.; King, T.; Longoria; Lucio; Martinez; Minjarez; Moody;
Munoz; Oliveira; Ortega; Perez; Pickett; Raymond; Reynolds; Rodriguez, E.;
Romero; Rose; Thierry; Thompson, S.; Turner; Uresti; Vo; Walle; Wu.
Present, not voting — Mr. Speaker; Cyrier(C); Oliverson.
Absent, Excused — Canales; Gonzalez; Keough; Leach; Nevarez; Rodriguez, J.; Shaheen; Sheffield.
Absent — Deshotel; Hunter
Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-MIssouri City, asked Goldman, “So what are the provisions in the bill that reduce voter fraud that don’t create new crimes and increased penalties?”

Goldman:

Well, I believe the increasing of penalties is the main point of this bill.

Hopefully the harvesters who are creating the fraud will realize that it’s no longer a slap on the wrist, that if you commit such fraud you will probably go to jail.

We’ve had instances in Tarrant County, and there’s been instances in Dallas County, where mainly these vote harvesters are going out and committing such fraud and if they get caught there’s not that strong of a penalty to prosecute those who get caught. So by increasing the penalties, hopefully this is deterrent not to commit these activities in the future.

Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, spoke on her disappointment on the repeal of the bill – the law – that she co-authored with Oliverson.
When we talk to our votes – i know I do this al the time . we’re very proud. We say, “We’re not Congress. We haven’t devolved to the point where like Congress we don’t listen to one another and we don’t work across party lines.”
My friend, Rep. Goldman,  in my view, is taking an assignment from the governor, and making this go down as cleanly and quickly as possible for the sake of political points, and it pains me. I serve as vice chair of this committee. I’ve been a very good vice chair to Chair Laubenberg. I have served hours upon hours and what the chairman has taught me is that ..
 
At this point Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, called a point of order on Israel.
Cain:
I call a point of order on this debate under Rule 5 Section 22. The gentlelady has engaged personalities and named Rep. Goldman by name in violation of the House rules.
After a few minutes, Cain was overruled and Israel continued.
“The politics have changed on this and it’s interesting,” said Israel, saying that Goldman was not even open to creating a pilot program for nursing home voting. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Noting her co-authorship with Oliverson on a reform that was signed into law by the governor, Israel said, “we are now redacting that and acting like it never happened. I am disappointed with the way this special session is going for a variety of reasons. and I am disappointed with how this topic is being handled and treated.”
“We took steps during he regular session to address this issue and I am concerned about what this bill says about the state of Texas,” Israel said.
Here was the vote on 2nd reading on the bill.
SB 5, as amended, was passed to third reading by (Record 100): 90 Yeas, 37
Nays, 2 Present, not voting.
Yeas — Anderson, C.; Anderson, R.; Ashby; Bailes; Bell; Biedermann;
Bohac; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Burkett; Burns; Burrows; Button; Cain;
Capriglione; Clardy; Cook; Cosper; Craddick; Dale; Darby; Davis, S.; Dean;
Elkins; Faircloth; Flynn; Frank; Frullo; Geren; Goldman; Gonzales; Gooden;
Guillen; Hefner; Herrero; Holland; Huberty; Hunter; Isaac; Kacal; King, K.;
King, P.; Klick; Koop; Krause; Kuempel; Lambert; Landgraf; Lang; Larson;
Laubenberg; Lozano; Metcalf; Meyer; Miller; Morrison; Murphy; Murr; Neave;
Oliverson; Paddie; Parker; Paul; Phelan; Phillips; Price; Raney; Rinaldi; Roberts;
Schaefer; Schofield; Schubert; Shine; Simmons; Smithee; Springer; Stephenson;
Stickland; Stucky; Swanson; Thompson, E.; Tinderholt; VanDeaver; Villalba;
White; Wilson; Workman; Wray; Zedler; Zerwas.
Nays — Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Are ́valo; Bernal; Blanco; Coleman;
Collier; Cortez; Davis, Y.; Dutton; Gervin-Hawkins; Hinojosa; Howard; Israel;
Johnson, E.; Johnson, J.; King, T.; Martinez; Minjarez; Moody; Mun ̃oz; Oliveira;
Ortega; Pickett; Raymond; Reynolds; Rodriguez, E.; Romero; Rose; Thierry;
Thompson, S.; Turner; Uresti; Vo; Walle; Wu.
Present, not voting — Mr. Speaker; Cyrier(C).
Absent, Excused — Canales; Gonzalez:  Keough; Leach; Nevarez: Rodriguez, J.; Shaheen; Sheffield.
Absent — Anchia; Deshotel; Dukes; Fallon; Farrar; Giddings; Guerra;
Gutierrez; Hernandez; Longoria; Lucio; Perez; Sanford
When the House adjourned yesterday I spoke with Craig Goldman about what had happened.
Here is what he told me:
Here’s the back story. Oliverson had a bill during session that basically opens up the nursing homes and makes them early voting locations. So Elections (Committee) heard it, passed it, didn’t move after that.
May 22, (Sen. Joan) Huffman (R-Houston) puts it on an amendment on Diego Bernal’s bill dealing with elderly disabled seniors. Fine bill, but tacks that on as an amendment. Sends it over.
Bernal gets it back May 27, puts it on Local and Consent and it passes. Governor signs it. All happened late. Slipped past the goalie. People weren’t aware what it did.
Well, 15 days later, 20 days later, Hancock and I are meeting with our election administrator and county judge (in Tarrant County) – “What did y’all pass? Y’all just slammed the biggest mandate on us that we’ve ever had. This is out of control.”
The more we started talking to other (local election officials ) – “This is horrendous. This is an unfunded mandate we can’t support.”
One by one election administrators and the Election Administrators’ Association –  we  got over 65 of them affecting 120 members saying, “Please repeal it. We don’t like and we didn’t ask for it.” They testified against it in committee and didn’t think it was going to go anywhere.
Goldman said he hadn’t heard their testimony in committee because he doesn’t sit on the Elections Committee. Goldman said he and Hancock were told they were chosen to carry the bill because of the election fraud that had occurred in their counties.
He said Oliverson’s bill also opened up new opportunities for fraud by giving the election judges chosen by each party the opportunity to do their own vote harvesting on their visits to nursing homes.
But that assumes corrupt election judges, I told Goldman.
“Assumption granted,” Goldman replied.
But Oliverson said that there are always two judges present – one from each party – so they would have to collude in their corruption, which he said makes no sense.
Neither the governor’s office or the attorney general’s office offered any comment on the repeal of Oliverson’s law.

But …

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