12News investigates possible inappropriate voter influence

This general election was marked by recounts, frustration with voting machines, and arguments that the election may have had irregularities. But 12NewsHD has discovered surprising new details about this year's mail-in balloting that you may consider alarming. 

The discovery may provide insight on why the number of mail-in ballots tripled during this general election. Increasing from an average of 1,200 ballots in a mid-term election - to more than 4,000 requests this year.

The voting at the polls was also unusually heavy this year, but Election 2014 may become historic for its "get out the vote" mail-in voting efforts.

12NewsHD has learned it involved efforts that some consider pushy, while others consider possibly illegal.

Following the trail of ballot requests by mail, 12NewsHD was able to obtain documents showing some women canvassing housing projects and senior living facilities-- looking to sign up voters. That's all legal. 

But when we went back to interview some of those voters we were told of efforts to influence them in ways that attorneys tell us may not have been legal.

Two women - who are not being identified by 12NewsHD at this time - signed up voters at a Beaumont housing community off Pine Street, and then returned later when the ballots had been mailed to voters like Laura Owens.

Owens says one of the women gave her "recommendations" on who to vote for and support.

12News Anchor Kevin Steele asked Owens, "And when she (the assistant) comes back around... how does that work? Does she say here's a good recommendation for somebody to vote for? 

Owens responded, "Oh yeah, she comes out and says here's a good person."

Other voters, like Xavier Sam, say they told the women which candidates they wanted to vote for and then the assistants marked the ballot for them. Its legal if accurately marked, but considered improper for able-bodied persons.

Steele asked Sam, "Okay, you would just tell her, say - XYZ candidate's name right? And then she would write it down for you?"

Sam responded, "Yes sir."

Others like Marcus Frank said his ballot was also filled out by the assistant.

12News asked, "You told them who you wanted to vote for, and then they just marked it down?"

"Yes," said Frank who lives in the same housing complex.

Steele asked, "And then once they marked it down, you signed it?"

"Yeah, said Frank. "And they took it (the ballot) with them."

That also would be improper, and a possible violation of Section 86 of the Texas Election Code. Documents show at least one of the women also signed up many voters at the Gulf Healthcare assisted living facility on 9th Avenue in Port Arthur.

Jefferson County Clerk Carolyn Guidry says her office is not allowed to accept hand-delivered ballots, and says she hopes the assistants are not going overboard, "The instructions about assisting a voter are on the application for a mail ballot and if there are any questions about what they should or should not be doing, then I would suggest they call the Secretary of State's office."

Both women that we discovered who served as assistants to voters denied any wrongdoing. When asked by 12NewsHD, one said, "I can assist them. Assist them. I don't know them personally. Republicans? We'll help them as well. We're advocates for the city. Whether they be African-American, Hispanic, Caucasian, these people want to vote." But she also admitted to, "discussing" the virtue of candidates.

The other woman also denied undue influence of voters, or to breaking the oath in Section 63 of the Texas Election Code to "not suggest by word, sign or gesture *how the voters should vote."

No one can say whether these votes would have been enough to swing any of the races, but clearly there is an eagerness to help voters and possibly not always properly.

If considered electioneering, a violation would be a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.


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