Democrats and Abbott Settle in Voter Suppression/Fraud Case
Both sides claim victory
By Lee Nichols,
4:33PM, Wed. May 28, 2008
Don't you love it when everyone wins? Dueling press releases from Attorney General Greg Abbott and the Democrat-affiliated Lone Star Project are both spinning a settlement agreement between the AG and the Texas Democratic Party as victories for their respective sides.
In 2006, six individuals and the TDP filed suit in federal court alleging that Abbott was enforcing a provision of the Texas Election Code too tightly. The provision forbids an individual from possessing another person's ballot, and Abbott prosecuted 26 cases. But the six plaintiffs in this case shot back by saying that they were merely trying to deliver the mail-in ballots of a friend or relative, and that the law was overbroad. They also noted that the majority of the Republican AG's prosecutions were against racial minorities, and all of them were against Democrats – and thus, they charged, this was more about suppressing and intimidating Democratic voters than preventing fraud. (Click here for a more detailed rehashing.)
Today, the suit was dismissed in Marshall by District Judge T. John Ward after a settlement was reached. Abbott's press release claimed that this was "the latest in a string of victories for the State of Texas, which consistently maintained that its efforts to protect the integrity of the elections process were entirely constitutional," while the Lone Star Project's statement was headlined "Plaintiffs Win Favorable Settlement in Abbott Vote Suppression Case."
“Election fraud is a serious crime that undermines our democratic system of government,” said Abbott. “After more than a year and a half of pre-trial maneuvering and discovery the plaintiffs discovered that their claims were without basis in fact or law. Today’s dismissal marks an important victory for the integrity of the electoral process.”
Abbott then noted that Ward's order “was accompanied by a renewed commitment to ensure voters and political activists have access to information about important legal protections for seniors and disabled voters who rely upon mail-in ballots to mark their votes from home and cast them by mail.”
“Our democratic process depends upon transparency, accountability and easy access to the ballot box,” Abbott said. “By continuing to educate voters and political activists about the law, the State of Texas will ensure that elderly and disabled voters are properly informed about legal protections that prevent over-reaching political activists from unlawfully applying pressure to mail-in ballot users.”
Abbott also pointed out that the law in question was actually written by a Democrat, now-former state representative Steve Wolens of Dallas.
The Lone Star Project had a very different take. “By agreeing to this settlement, the Texas Attorney General has essentially acknowledged that those who have been prosecuted to date for hypertechnical violations of failing to sign a mail ballot envelope did not commit any fraud, as he has falsely claimed for years.”
As for the additional provisions of the order on “access to information,” LSP said, “The Attorney General also agreed that the Secretary of State would change instructions to voters who vote by mail in 2008. The Secretary of State had already made changes to the ballot envelope and instructions to voters, acknowledging that such changes were made as a result of the lawsuit. The Attorney General and Secretary of State also agreed to consider additional revisions to voter instruction language that make it clear to voters, and those who assist them, the proper procedures for voting by mail. The Plaintiff will also help the Secretary of State's office create training materials and guidelines so those who help their neighbors vote will do so in accordance with the law.”
“It is not surprising that Greg Abbott would attempt to spin this as a victory for his office,” said LSP director Matt Angle. “But the fact remains that he changed his prosecution policy because he knew that his office was racially selectively prosecuting minority activists and Democrats for hypertechnical violations of the law."
“Today’s settlement of the federal Voter Suppression case is a significant win for Texas Democrats and all Texans who cherish the right to cast a vote free from intimidation,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie. “The settlement should put an end to Attorney General Greg Abbott’s use of taxpayer dollars to selectively prosecute Democrats who were ‘guilty’ of nothing more than helping a friend or neighbor who is elderly or disabled get their perfectly legal ballot to the mailbox.”
Newsdesk has yet to see the actual text of the agreement; we hope to review it for ourselves soon.