In the Medrano Vote Fraud Case, Let's Not Tie the Noose Just Yet

OK, I do understand that we're all primed now to string up the entire Medrano family for a massive vote fraud conspiracy bordering on terrorism, communism and cannibalism. All I want to do is toss out a couple modest words of caution.

The Dallas Morning News has a lead editorial today insisting that somebody "get to the bottom" of charges against seven members of the family charged with vote fraud and lying to a grand jury. Just for the sake of argument, I'd like to get to the top of the story instead.

First of all, this is a really good family, beginning with the patriarch, the late Pancho Medrano, who was a respected political activist at every level from neighborhood politics to national presidential politics. Pancho Medrano was a gentleman and a force to be reckoned with.

He could play a tough game, but he always dealt from the top of the deck. He was one of those old-fashioned '50s and '60s minority leaders who thought the way for people from minority backgrounds to achieve equality was by out-performing the whites. A member of the family told me once that Pancho insisted they all show up 15 minutes early for everything because the Anglos expected them to be 15 minutes late.

The charges here are that the Medranos ordered two teenage girls in the family to vote from the wrong address, along with something else about encouraging a felon to vote. So here are my words of caution.

For the most part, the Texas Legislature has never given a big flying shit where people vote from. The legal standard isn't even about where you live. It's about where you intend to live. The courts in the past have sanctioned voting by RV-dwelling snowbirds who vote in South Texas because they have post office boxes there, even though some of them virtually never spend a night where they have the post office box.

Why does the Legislature allow stuff like that? Think about it. When this business comes to the surface, it's always about minority Democrats, especially since the Tea Party has so aggressively targeted minority voters. But if you back away 10 yards and view the phenomenon whole, it will occur to you that lots of kinds of people have shaky claims to their declared voting residences, including about a zillion white college students and who knows how many old folks who get toted hither and yon in the course of things.

For whatever reason, the Legislature has never seen fit to close this circle tightly and definitively, despite lots of chances. I talked to former Dallas County elections director Bruce Sherbet about it yesterday. He worked closely with former State Representative Steve Wolens in 2002 when Wolens authored a successful vote fraud reform that did close some loopholes.

But Sherbet said most of those loopholes were technical and small-bore. He said he knows what kind of reform would clean up the violations that still occur: "Make the candidates responsible, so they can't blame it on some campaign worker over here."

Well, the Legislature consists entirely of candidates. How eager do you think they're going to be to make themselves responsible, criminally and civilly, for everything that goes on in their campaigns? For one thing, they all know how crazy campaigns can get. Politics, remember, is what we do instead of war.

So what about this thing with the Medranos? Why did the teenage girls vote in the wrong place? I'm telling you: This story is going to get into all kinds of family stuff about telling teenagers what to do. Think about your own family. How much of this crap do you really want to hear?

The backdrop for all of this is a massive national cultural and political trend at the conservative white end of the spectrum to believe that minority voting is somehow per se a bad thing and therefore probably a fraud. You cannot divorce the Medrano case from that context, especially when you have a conservative white Texas attorney general taking the case out of Dallas and prosecuting it instead in an ultra-conservative suburb.

Some great journalistic work has been done on this story, which I do not mean to denigrate. The guy pushing it in the community is former Dallas J.P. Luis Sepulveda, whom I admire because he's tenacious. I hate vote fraud when they sell the minority votes to white candidates who then get elected and operate against the interests of the minority community.

But painting the Medrano family as some kind of vote-stealing mafia is bullshit. They're a good family with a longer record of public service on boards and commissions than maybe any other Dallas family I can think of, of any ethnicity.

When the lawyers finally drill down into this specific case in court, I suspect it's going to be a bunch of family child-rearing stuff that the rest of us have no need to know about. So, with that said, I invite you to unholster your sidearms and burn down the landscape calling me a libtard Mexican-loving hippie bastard fraud-enabler. Actually that would be 95 percent true.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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