By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The sleaze artists not only are out there hard at work preparing to steal and bamboozle votes from old people in the May 3 Dallas election: They may even be working overtime. They want to get in their last good harvest before the vote-fraud reform bill shuts them down.
State Representative Steve Wolens, Mayor Laura Miller's husband, has a bill in the House this year aimed at cleaning up vote fraud in Texas, especially in Dallas where it has become a cottage industry. Let me give you an example of why that might be a good idea:
Today we're driving, you and I, through a very poor neighborhood in West Dallas, way out Canada Drive behind the Trinity River levee. We are going to visit with a dozen or so individual voters scattered through this area who all seem to have identical handwriting. And a very beautiful hand it is--a kind of ornate script with broad flourishes that you just don't see a lot of these days.
Let me explain a little what we're going after: On my dashboard is a sheaf of photocopies of applications for absentee ballots by mail for the May 3 election. These are public records. Anyone can get them from the Dallas County Elections Department.
Normally a voter sends one of these applications in; the elections department mails back an absentee ballot package. The professional vote harvesters, however, mail these in under the names of voters without the voter's knowledge; that way they know from the legally required timing of the process exactly when the mailman will deliver the ballot. Then they follow the mailman.
They may steal the ballot in order to vote it themselves fraudulently. They may sell it to a dirty campaign. Or they may even knock on the voter's door and bamboozle the voter to vote in favor of the dirty campaign that's paying them.
First stop, the home of Raybon Hunter on Canada Drive. He's up in years but comes to the door looking fairly hale and hearty. I show him the signature, and he says right away it's not his, and he doesn't vote absentee.
"No, I'm going to go ahead and vote [in person]," he tells me. "I drive."
Next stop, the home of Milas Franklin Jr. and his wife, Lorine. The pretty young Latino housewife who answers the door tells me she's never heard of them.
Next stop, home of Norman Jones. He says: "That's nothing like my signature at all."
Let's stop by and chat with the Prices, Lee and Louise, who have identical Olde-Englishy handwriting on their mail-in ballot applications. Mrs. Price tells me at the door that she does vote absentee, but she says the signature on the application I am showing her is not her own: "No, no, my papers are still in here," she says. "I haven't filled them out yet. I do it myself."
Hazel Randolph is not at home. I leave my card, and Mrs. Randolph calls me later to assure me that she has not applied for a mail-in ballot.
Annie Lee Taylor is at home and on the sofa but indisposed. Her husband assures me the signature on the document I show him is not his wife's. "No."
Christine Kelly tells me she has already received a mail-in ballot in the mail, a surprise since she had not applied for one.
The home of Rosa Jones, another applicant with the same ornate handwriting, appears to be unoccupied and is padlocked from the outside.
Louise Ball is seated on her stoop, a frail wizened little lady in a red wig. I show her the document and ask if it's her signature. Doesn't take two winks. "No. That's not mine."
OK. This is getting old, right? All of the calligraphy-looking signatures are fake. You and I, we may not be Sherlock Holmes, but this is not Holmes' case of the forged letter of Sir Percy Derwent, chief inspector of Cornwall County. In fact, let me ask you something: Did the forger in the case of the identically faked mail-in ballot applications of Dallas County never think of varying the signatures? We are forced to deduce, Watson, that this culprit is either extremely arrogant, or, perhaps more likely, running a quart low.
All of my suspect ballots came in as part of the same shipment of 265 ballot applications delivered to county election headquarters a week ago by UPS. The legally required name on the paperwork of the person making the shipment was Mark Baker, a political activist who lives in this neighborhood and who has been active in mail-in ballot campaigns in the past. We visit Baker's home. His mother, a nice lady, tells us he is "out," and she and I have a little chat about what I'm up to. I leave a card.
Now we try to reach Clair Conly Woertendyke, a candidate for the District 3 city council seat. I am trying to phone him because it has been asserted to me in the course of the day that the bundle of 265 ballot applications bearing Baker's name actually was shipped in by Woertendyke. When I call the phone number given on Woertendyke's financial disclosure statement at City Hall, I get a Latino gentleman who has never heard of him. By the way, I am concerned that this same darned culprit may have filed a fake financial disclosure form for Woertendyke, because Woertendyke's signature on the form seems quite similar to my untrained eye to the bad signatures on the mail-in ballot applications.