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There are people in Texas who were ineligible to vote but erroneously voted and therefore were jailed for voter fraud:

You’re right, there are really strict punitive criminal measures to try to deter people from registering to vote or voting. You probably read about a woman who was finishing terms of her probation, and erroneously voted though she was not allowed to by those terms of probation, I think ended up with a five-year sentence in jail. Another woman who was brought to this country at a very young age, grew up in the United States but was not a citizen, again erroneously voted, I think had an eight-year term, so the signal is sent to be very afraid about voting in Texas.

Let’s assume that it’s correct that no intent was involved. How is that even possible, i.e., how could they erroneously vote? Is just any person who shows up on a voting station allowed to vote?

I would think a person needs some identification to check whether he is allowed to vote, and can only vote then? Is the person first allowed, and somehow checked later and tracked down? I thought public voting is anonymous, so that's not possible!

I know the German way of voting:

  • You receive your voting card via post.
  • You show up at the station and present your card.
  • They check whether you are on the voters’ list and possibly check your ID.
  • You get the ballot paper, mark your choice, and put it into the voting box.

Is there some tracking who has voted, and later, there is a check after the fact?

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    The confusion may stem from the fundamental fact that in Germany, you are legally obliged to register your residence, from which voter lists are easily extracted. This obligation does not exist in the US. One consequence is that voter registration is A Thing in the US, but it is a non-issue in Germany. A consequence of this is that voter fraud is more of A Thing in the US than in Germany, and therefore there are stronger legal sanctions against it. ... – Stephan Kolassa Jun 11 at 8:48
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    ... The analogous question you could ask of a German would be: "Why can you be fined up to 50,000 Euros simply for not registering your residence (§§17, 54 Bundesmeldegesetz, in German)? I submit that this may be as incomprehensible to a US resident as being jailed for voting would be for a German. – Stephan Kolassa Jun 11 at 8:50
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    @StephanKolassa: voter registration is A Thing in the US, but it is a non-issue in Germany. A consequence of this is that voter fraud is more of A Thing in the US than in Germany, and therefore there are stronger legal sanctions against it – IIRC, incidences of voting fraud are pretty low in either country. The legal sanctions against it are actually comparable in Germany (up to five years of prison). The key thing is that given a central register of citizens, it’s practically impossible to accidentally commit voting fraud. – Wrzlprmft Jun 11 at 18:51
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    @Valorum, that seems incredibly unlikely; what was the motive supposed to be? – Harry Johnston Jun 13 at 22:55
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    @valorum. I'm intrigued. Why would someone intentionally commit a crime that comes with a rather stiff penalty only to vote (and in particular, to vote in Texas). State-wide politics has been strongly skewed Republican, while in local urban elections, it's strongly skewed Democrat. Most state and congressional seats are heavily gerrymandered. The result is that there are very few close elections in Texas. Voter fraud has no value here – Flydog57 Jun 13 at 23:18
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The two cases mentioned in the linked podcast are those of Crystal Mason and Rosa Maria Ortega, who were both convicted of voter fraud under different circumstances.

I'm going to firstly focus on the case of Crystal Mason, who was convicted after voting in the 2016 presidential election whilst ineligible to vote.

She was able to be identified and charged because as she did not appear on the list of registered voters, when she went to vote at her polling place, she filled in a provisional ballot paper. These were introduced by the Help America Vote Act in 2002, and are used to ensure that voters who think they should be able to vote, but do not appear on the list for administrative reasons, can still cast their vote on the day. You can read more about Texas's specific implementation here.

Provisional voting is designed to allow a voter whose name does not appear on the list of registered voters due to an administrative error to vote. The provisional voting process involves an affidavit that (1) the voter must complete stating the reasons he or she is qualified to vote; and (2) is used if the voter’s registration cannot be verified by the polling place election officials OR if a voter (a) does not possess one of the acceptable forms of photo identification listed above, and a voter can reasonably obtain one of these forms of identification or (b) possesses, but did not bring to the polling place, one of the seven forms of acceptable photo identification listed above, or (c) does not possess one of the seven forms of acceptable photo identification, could otherwise not reasonably obtain one, but did not bring a supporting form of identification to the polling place.

The provisional voting process requires the voter to visit the voter registrar’s office within six (6) calendar days of the date of the election to either present one of the above seven (7) acceptable forms of photo ID OR if the voter does not possess, and cannot reasonably obtain an acceptable form of photo identification, execute a Reasonable Impediment Declaration and present one of the acceptable forms of supporting ID, OR, if applicable, submit one of the temporary affidavits (e.g., religious objection or natural disaster) OR, if applicable, qualify for a permanent disability exemption, in order for the provisional ballot to count.

The voter-marked provisional ballots are kept separately from the regular ballots, and the voter’s records will be reviewed by the provisional voting ballot board (the early voting ballot board), to determine if the ballot is to be counted or rejected. If applicable, the voter registrar will conduct whatever research is necessary to determine whether the voter is or should have been registered in the precinct in which the voter cast the provisional ballot and will pass this information on to the ballot board to assist it in making the decision of whether the provisional ballot must be counted. Provisional voters will receive a notice in the mail by the 10th day after the local canvass advising them if their provisional ballots were counted, and if they were not counted, the reason why.

Mason was ineligible to vote due to previously having been convicted of a felony; tax fraud, and being on supervised release. Texas prohibits felons from voting until they finish their sentence entirely. As a result, she was charged and convicted of voter fraud, as the provisional ballot with attached affidavit served as evidence that she had attempted to vote. The Guardian reports:

She did not read the small print of the form that said that anyone who has been convicted of a felony – as she had, having previously been convicted of tax fraud – was prohibited from voting under Texas law.

Her sentence was upheld by a Texas appeals court in March 2020.

Secondly, the case of Rosa Maria Ortega. Ortega is a Mexican national who registered to vote despite being ineligible, and later confessing to officers while being secretly recorded to having voted previously. According to USA Today:

Birdsall characterized Ortega as a poorly educated woman who, as a lawful permanent resident all of her adult life, was unaware that she was not permitted to vote. Her indictment in November 2015 followed a series of actions she revealed to elections officials and law enforcement investigators.

After moving from Dallas to neighboring Tarrant County in late 2014, she attempted to register to vote but indicated on her application that she was not an American citizen. When her application was rejected, she called election administrators and was told that the reason for the rejection was that she had checked the "no" box for citizenship. Ortega explained that she had been able to vote in Dallas County and resubmitted her voter registration, this time indicating she was a citizen.

Several months later, Ortega was visited on her front porch by two investigators from Paxton's office. They secretly recorded Ortega as she said she checked the box indicating she was a citizen because she had previously encountered no trouble voting in Dallas County.

It was Ortega's poor luck that she had just confessed to illegal voting in a state where elected officials made examples of those they deemed contributors to voter fraud.

So in the two cases mentioned, there were specific circumstances which provided the court with enough evidence to convict the individuals of voter fraud.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about felony disenfranchisement has been moved to chat. – Philipp Jun 12 at 13:46
  • It's worth noting that the "Paxton" referenced in the second quote is Attorney General Ken Paxton. Politically, he's very interested in finding evidence of any kind of "voter fraud". It's also worth noting that he's been under felony indictment since July of 2015 and he continues efforts to delay that case from moving forward. texastribune.org/2019/06/19/… – Flydog57 Jun 12 at 21:13
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In Texas, voter registration is done on a paper form and requires a "wet signature" (i.e., the voter must physically sign the piece of paper - there is no online option). The voter registration card includes this information:

Qualifications:

  • You must register to vote in the county in which you reside
  • You must be a citizen of the United States
  • You must be at least 17 years and 10 months old to register, and you must be 18 years of age by election day
  • You must not be finally convicted of a felony, or if you are a felon, you must have completed all of your puniishment, including any term of incarceration, parole, supervision, period of probation, or you must have received a pardon.
  • You must not have been determined by a final judgement of a court exercising probate jurisdiction to be totally mentally incapacitated or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.

Up at the top of the form, in bold, are two yes/no questions about the applicant's US citizenship status and age (at least 18 on voting day). This includes a highlighted note saying that if you checked "no" to either question, you should not complete the form.

In addition, right above the signature location, after a warning about perjury, there are these points:

I Affirm that I

  • am a resident of this county and a US citizen
  • have not been finally convicted of a felony, or if a felon, I have completed all of my punishment, including any term of incarceration, parole, supervision, period of probation, or I have received a pardon.
  • have not been declared mentally incompetent by final judgement of a court of law

A Volunteer Deputy Registrar may assist you with your voter registration (I'm one), but that person can't check (or ask for any proof) that the voter's declarations are true. In particular, the VDP can't ask for any proof of citizenship.

At the time of voting, the voter will be asked to prove his or her identity (by providing one of 7 allows pieces of ID (for example, a driver's license)). However, that's only to prove identity, not qualification. I could show my passport or my naturalization certificate (to prove my identity), but I only bother to bring my driver's license.

So...

If you don't read the voter registration form carefully, you could be seriously breaking the law. When I assist someone, I point out the requirements and tell them of the possible punishments (not to scare them away, just to inform them).

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    One really critical part of this answer is where it points out that in many - maybe most - jurisdictions the registrar to not entitled to perform any verification of the voter registrant's affirmations at all. A registrant who does not properly understand any of the affirmations can therefore erroneously register to vote and vote. And anyone who has worked with public data of any kind will be familiar with exactly how poor the data quality of citizen-affirmed non-verified data will be. – tbrookside Jun 12 at 19:57
  • I think this answer relies on obsolete information. The Texas Secretary of State's website has an online Voter Registration Application form. The final form must be printed, wet-signed, and mailed, but the printable form is populated from answers to the online form. The very first question on this form is "Are you a United States Citizen?" The first bullet point below the boldfaced perjury warning (which also uses the simpler word "crime") has been changed to "I am a resident of this county and a U.S. Citizen." Also available in Spanish. – shoover Jun 14 at 1:39
  • You are correct, the first "affirmation" on the current (2-year) printed voter registration card does say "I am a resident of this county and a US citizen". Sorry, I pulled an old one out of the pile. Interestingly, the self-serve (mail-in, white) card has the Qualifications section, while the Registrar version (green, and bilingual (en/es)) does not. I've updated my answer. I'm not familiar with the Sec. Of State version. Thanks for the correction – Flydog57 Jun 14 at 2:47

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