Vote-harvesting arrests

Top, from left: Gregg County Pct. 4 Commissioner Shannon Brown, Charlie Burns Bottom, from left: Marlena Jackson, DeWayne Ward

A court date has been pushed back to May for four people, including a sitting Gregg County commissioner, accused in an organized vote-harvesting scheme in Gregg County.

Commissioner Shannon Brown, 50, along with Charlie Burns, 84 of Longview; DeWayne Ward, 59, of Longview; and Marlena Jackson, 51, of Marshall, were arrested in September on charges related to suspected organized election fraud. The arrests came after an investigation lasting more than two years. 

Charges included engaging in organized election fraud, illegal voting, fraudulent use of mail ballot application, unlawful possession of ballot/ballot envelope, election fraud and tampering with a governmental record with intent to harm or defraud.

A status hearing for their cases previously set for this past week has been rescheduled for May 7. No trial date is set.

Penalties for the offenses, if convicted, range from six months in state jail to 99 years in prison, according to the Texas Attorney General's office. Jackson was charged with 97 felonies, Brown with 23 felonies, Burns with eight felonies and Ward with six.

The probe was announced in May 2018 after the March primary race for commissioner between Brown and former Longview Councilwoman Kasha Williams drew 787 mail-in ballots. Those mail-in votes swung an election day lead by Williams into a five-vote Brown victory. About one third of the voters using those mail-in, or absentee, ballots made a disability claim to qualify for them.

After Brown won the March 2018 Democratic primary against former Longview City Councilwoman Kasha Williams, questions were raised about the absentee voting in the election.

Brown’s win was confirmed in a recount.

After the results of the 2018 race between Brown and Williams was decided, Gregg County Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy, who retired effective Dec. 31, said she questions practices that for years have led to disproportionate numbers of mail-in ballots in the South Longview voting precinct.

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Courtney Stern is a public safety reporter covering a wide range of topics. She grew up in Baltimore and later earned a journalism degree from the University of Miami. Stern moved to East Texas from Iowa with her husband and two dogs, Pebbles and Bam Bam.