By Guillermo X. Garcia - SAEN
Some 16 months after Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed boldly declared that she wouldn't tolerate undocumented people “illegally voting in my county,” a lengthy voter fraud investigation has concluded with the filing of low-level charges.
The charges filed in late July against just two people, both U.S. citizens, were for perjury, a misdemeanor.
The investigation discovered more than 300 noncitizens had registered to vote in Bexar County, some as far back as the mid-1990s, and that 41 of them had actually cast a ballot.
But officials acknowledged that none will be prosecuted because the statue of limitations had expired.
“You bet your bottom dollar we'll prosecute,” Reed said in kicking off the investigation in May 2007. “I will not have anyone illegally voting in my county.”
Cliff Herberg, Reed's first assistant, said Thursday that prosecutors tried to find and prosecute illegal voters. He defended the outcome of the probe, saying that for a variety of circumstances, including the time that had elapsed since the illegal acts occurred, prosecutors were unable to file voter fraud charges.
The investigation began after Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen purged hundreds of names from the county's roll of more than 860,000 registered voters.
In a review of the past six years, Callanen said 330 undocumented people had registered to vote, and that 41 of them had voted — even though they later acknowledged they were not U.S. citizens.
Callanen said 41 people admitted voting, some in multiple elections, between 2001 and 2007. Each one said they were unaware they could not register or vote.
It could not be determined when or how they registered, but Callanen said there was “nothing to indicate a systematic effort to register noncitizens. But clearly, those folks should not have voted.”
Republican legislators in a number of states, including Texas, have tried repeatedly to toughen the law by requiring voters to present one or more forms of identification. They say it is necessary to preserve the integrity of elections.
In the last two legislative sessions in Austin, GOP-led efforts to pass voter ID bills have been met with resistance, bitter debate and defeat.
The district attorney's portion of the investigation quietly ended last month when two women were arrested and charged with perjury, a Class A misdemeanor, in connection with lying on a jury summons card.
The joint probe involved federal agents along with two assistant district attorneys and a pair of investigators who determined that people illegally in the country had violated the state's election law.
He noted that Reed made a series of recommendations to Callanen that would tighten voter registration procedures and also make it easier to prosecute future instances of voter fraud.
But County Judge Nelson Wolff rejected those recommendations because “turning Jacqui Callanen into a law enforcement agent is not the goal. Enfranchising people and getting more people to participate in the electoral process is her goal.”