A Texas attorney general office probe into potential voter fraud in Gregg County’s Pct. 4 is focusing on applications for mail-in ballots, and investigators from Austin are expected here to conduct interviews.
Investigators have yet to set foot in Gregg County more than three months after the probe launched, as far as county Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy knows.
Nealy said Tuesday she has spoken with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s investigators, but she added she knows little and is hesitant to say too much.
“Yes, we have spoken, and yes, they are interested,” she said. “And yes, they are coming. They were very interested in talking to us.”
Nealy said investigators interviewed her in Austin while she was attending a conference earlier this month.
“We’ve been communicating by email since then,” she said. “They have asked for copies of documents. It’s copies of certain applications. They are going to review those so they will know what to focus on when the investigation comes here.”
The applications Nealy referenced are for mail-in ballots, the focus of a state attorney general probe launched in late May by the complaint of Pct. 4 voter the Rev. D.J. Nelson.
The probe arose from the spring’s Democratic primary race for commissioner between Kasha Williams and Shannon Brown.
That contest drew more mail-in ballots, by far, than the county’s other three precincts combined. It also seemed to have an inordinate percentage of people younger than 65 who claimed a disability as their reason for voting by mail.
The 787 mail-in ballots tallied in the March primary represent more than 37 percent of votes cast in the Brown/Williams contest, which Brown won by five votes. Of the 787 ballot applications, at least 226 claimed a disability — almost 29 percent.
In announcing the investigation in May, alongside local and state elected representatives on the Gregg County Courthouse lawn, state Sen. Bryan Hughes said the statewide average of mail-in ballot applicants who claim a disability is 9 percent.
State Rep. Jay Dean, R-Longview, added that 2.5 percent of mail-in voters in the other three precincts combined used the disability claim on their applications.
“We’re focusing on the applications where voters were assisted,” Nealy said Friday.
Hughes was not available for comment this past week. The Mineola Republican is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Election Security, which has yet to hold a second meeting after Hughes reported its first session in the spring included prominent mention of the Pct. 4 Gregg County mailed ballots.
The Brown/Williams mail ballot applications indicated five people assisted 226 voters with the primary ballot. Williams’ attorney, whose district court challenge to the primary results was tossed on a technicality before evidence was aired in court, called those five people Gregg County’s “vote harvesters,” people who deliver mail-in votes for a candidate for money.
Nealy said those are the “certain applications” she emailed to investigators in Austin.
“I haven’t heard back from them,” she said, adding she has not heard new reports from Hughes, Dean or leaders in Pct. 4, the county’s Democratic-dominant, minority precinct. She also was uncertain who in the county can expect investigators to come knocking.
“I can’t specify who they are going to talk to; they may start with (county officials),” she said. “I don’t know.”
Dean said at the probe’s launch in May that he anticipated it taking about six months, an estimate he repeated in a recent interview.
“(Investigators) definitely are keeping everything close to the vest,” Dean said. “And I feel we’ll see a positive outcome.”
He and Nealy have long acknowledged mail balloting is suspicious in Pct. 4.
“People from throughout the community were aware that this has been taking place for quite some time,” Dean said. “And I’ll also say there are people who benefited from it in the past, that didn’t benefit this time, that are very much aware of what’s going on. And everybody wants an even playing field. Everybody pretty much knows who are the ... bad actors who are involved in this.”
Nealy said she’s just happy an entity with the legal teeth to take on the case stepped up. Her office does not investigate, and elections administrators are not required or equipped to investigate whether a voter’s disability claim is accurate or bogus.
“We’re glad someone’s looking into it and giving us assistance,” she said.