I can tell you exactly what the vote fraud is in West Dallas, where a Dallas City Council runoff election will be decided Saturday. It’s terrible. The fraud is the turnout.
And to the extent that any other narrative serves to keep people away from the polls, that narrative is a big part of the fraud.
The runoff in City Council District 6 is to settle the score between the two top vote-getters in a field of six who competed in the joint election May 6. The leader in that voter non-turnout fiasco was incumbent council member Monica Alonzo, who pulled down a big 40.57 percent of all votes cast. The runner-up was challenger Omar Narvaez, who came in at 29.16 percent.
The key question for both: percent of what? District 6 is supposed to contain 74,348 human beings, of whom 52,326 are of voting age. So what percentage of voting-age persons in her district did Alonzo pull down in order to take first place on May 6?
Alonzo came in first May 6 by winning the votes of just less than 2 percent of the voting-age population in her district — 949 votes in all. Narvaez came in second with a tad more than 1 percent of the potential votes in District 6 — 682 votes in all.
I don’t mean to pick on District 6. As Stephen Young reported in the past, the city of Dallas, with a consistent turnout rate of about 6 percent in citywide elections, has the worst voter turnout record of any major city in America. The very worst. The bottom. In America.
In terms of voting problems that you might think Dallas would be worried about, the worst voter turnout rate in the country ought to be at the top of the list. But, wait — before we forget about District 6, let’s take a moment to recognize that it consistently and historically has one of the worst turnout rates in Dallas, which would make it one of the worst City Council districts in the country for voter turnout.
In fact, since most of the Western democracies in the world have notably higher voter participation than this country does, perhaps District 6 should be recognized as having one of the worst city government voter turnout rates on Earth. If somebody develops photography that can capture voter turnout from a satellite some day, Dallas’s District 6 will be visible from outer space as an emptiness.
Does that mean we should not be worried about vote fraud in District 6? No, it’s worse than that. Terrible voter turnout means it’s easier to steal an election by stealing a few votes. Most of the time, you don’t even have to know what you’re doing, which seems to be the case in District 6 this time.
After the votes have been counted next Saturday, all indications are that we will know even less than we do now about who’s behind the persistent allegations of mail-in ballot fraud in this election cycle. Here are the few things we know for sure at this point in time:
A sketchy-looking man with an odd grin and problems making eye contact appeared WFAA-TV (Channel 8) two weeks ago and said he had made certain audio recordings of conversations with certain people about certain things. At one point in one of his taped conversations, he accused another sketchy man of forging a signature on a vote-related document.
“I ain't even going to lie,” he seems to tell the other man in the recording — unless it was edited, which is impossible to tell on TV. “It looks like your signature.”
Strange that various sketchy-looking persons are able to identify each other’s sketchy handwriting even when they are sketchily forging other people’s names. Who’d have thought that?
But largely on the basis of this sketchiness, WFAA called it “the largest voter fraud investigation in Texas” — quite a claim in the state where LBJ’s infamous Ballot Box 13 from the 1948 U.S. Senate race deserves but does not yet have its own historical marker.
So we have the sketchy-looking men saying sketchy-sounding things. Then last week, a warrant was issued for a third man accused of voting fraudulently by using a mail-in ballot that did not belong to him, a felony. At the time of this writing, that man had not been apprehended.
And now that this has been all over TV, we have hundreds of people in West Dallas, most of them senior citizens, who think maybe something sketchy may have happened with their mail-in ballots, but they’re not sure. Not to be ageist about it or anything — actually some of my best friends are old — but the best investigative test I know of for situations like this is to go with a stopwatch to all the same people, get them out on the porch, snap your fingers in their faces and shout, “Quick! Right now! Name your kids!”
As Young has demonstrated with his reporting on this question, the 700 mailed ballots thrown into contention by these accusations in the May 6 joint election, when ultimately verified and counted, turned out to benefit more or less nobody over anybody else much. If there was organized vote stealing going on in that election, it was either one big conspiracy carried out by a few idiots or a bunch of tiny competing conspiracies carried out by many idiots. Both are possibilities.
The vicious cycle is this: Lousy voter turnout creates a greater incentive for vote fraud. Stories about vote fraud and criminal investigations tend to suppress voter turnout even more, especially in poor neighborhoods where people can ill afford run-ins with persons with badges. So the turnout goes down even more. The incentive to steal votes goes up.
The result is that you have a place like District 6. Decisions made by the City Council about District 6 in months ahead, especially on gentrification issues, will literally either keep people in their homes or throw them out on the street. Not to get too far into the weeds on the runoff, but the two candidates running represent wide and clearly defined differences on those questions.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that people in District 6, many of whom have few alternatives for places to live, could either hold on to their homes or render themselves homeless according to how they vote in this runoff. Yet consider this:
So little basic credence do the people of District 6 place in city government, so little hope of empowerment, so small the faith they place in it that something greater than 95 percent of them will not even try to vote. There is the vote scandal.
If I were Vladimir Putin, I might try to save some of the money I’ve been spending on hackers to delegitimize the Western democracies and just send a film crew to West Dallas. If democracy really works, if it really holds out hope to the people who need it most, how can so few of those people even bother to participate?
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Sometimes I wonder if we even know what democracy is, what the rule of law is. It’s what we do instead of war. Democracy is where we take our most desperate needs so we won’t have to settle them with violence. Take democracy away, and violence is what’s left.
I may not know how to attack the vicious cycle of vote fraud from the big end — faith in democracy — but going at it from the other direction — tightening up the process of voting — ought to be simple. I am aware that state Rep. Eric Johnson, Democrat of Dallas, is talking to various people, including some in the District Attorney’s Office who know exactly how the fraudsters operate.
They are talking about cleaning up the process, especially where the mailing and delivery of vote-by-mail ballots are concerned. It may be that modern technology can be harnessed to create a better inventory system and tracking of documents, assuming we can get past the Tea Party types who think everything technological is a takeover attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood. Simply giving the county elections department more money and better leadership couldn’t hurt.
Meanwhile, here we are practicing what we tell ourselves is democracy in a supposedly advanced society, but crucial life-and-death decisions are left to 5 percent of qualified voters in our own city. That’s the real fraud, the thing of which Dallas should be truly ashamed and, ultimately, afraid.