Trial date set for 4 accused of ‘ballot harvesting’ in East Texas

Texas

GREGG COUNTY, Texas (KETK)- A trial date has been set for an East Texas Commissioner and others previously arrested in an alleged “ballot harvesting” scheme during the 2018 Democratic primary election.

Gregg County Commissioner Shannon Brown, Marlena Jackson, Charlie Burns and DeWayne Ward are scheduled to have their trial date on Jan. 31, 2022.

The case is connected to the 2018 election race for Gregg County Pct. 4 County Commissioner between Shannon Brown and Kasha Williams.

The state filed 134 felony charges against the four defendants including engaging in organized election fraud, illegal voting, fraudulent use of an application for a mail-in ballot, unlawful possession of a mail-in ballot, tampering with a governmental record, and election fraud.

District Attorney Tom Watson said, an investigation was started after the 2018 Democratic primary election because a citizen submitted a complaint that fraudulent voting practices were happening in Gregg County’s Precinct 4.

During the election race, there were irregularities with the large number of mail-in ballots that were requested based on voter disability. More than 360 mail-in voter ballots were requested in Precinct 4 because people said they had a disability. All together, Precincts 1, 2, and 3 had less than 15 of these requests.

In the end, Brown won the election by four votes.

Furthermore, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office referred to Brown, Jackson, Burns and Ward as “ballot harvesters,” or people who deliver mail-in votes for a candidate for money.

According to the indictment, the group targeted young, able-bodied voters so they would cast ballots by mail by fraudulently claiming they were disabled to ensure Brown won the race.

Author of the controversial Texas elections bill Sen. Bryan Hughes made a statement about mail in ballots.

“Voting by mail is an important tool for our over-65 and disabled citizens. Mail-in ballots are also most vulnerable to cheating and fraud. We must protect Texas election integrity and we will,” he said.

Under Texas election law, mail ballots based on disability are specifically reserved for those who are physically ill and cannot vote in-person as a result.

People can be sentenced between six months in state jail or up to 99 years in prison for these offenses.

Previously, a grand jury returned indictments on 23 felony counts against Commissioner Brown, 97 felony counts against Marlena Jackson, eight felony counts against Charlie Burns, and six felony counts against DeWayne Ward. The Office of the Attorney General was assisted by the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office during the investigation.

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