Tampering with Texas elections: In-depth look at election History

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Early voting starts Monday. It comes at a time when some political candidates and voters are raising concerns about the risk of election fraud, which isn’t a new issue in the Lone Star State.

Some Texans remember days long ago when stuffing local ballot boxes helped candidates like Lyndon B. Johnson win elections. In 1948, LBJ was running against Coke Stevenson for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. Stevenson was ahead on election day by thousands of votes. But slowly, the race narrowed in the days after when county officials were double checking and tallying the votes. Stuffing ballot boxes and getting dead people to vote was common all across Texas.

Operatives working for long time political boss George Parr, known as the “Duke of Duval County,” changed the results by 200 votes for precinct box no. 13 in Jim Wells County. Johnson won the election by 87 votes and went on to the U.S. Senate by defeating the Republican candidate later that year.

“In the past, cheating has occurred precisely in these crevices within the system at the local level,” said UT Professor Jeremi Suri.

“Landslide” Lyndon B. Johnson was again caught in the debate of who can and can’t vote in the 1960s. As President, he signed major civil rights legislation that allowed the federal government to crack down on county and state officials who tried to keep African-Americans and new immigrants from the polls.

Several decades later, another debate grabbed headlines around the state.

“Requiring a photo-ID before a person is allowed to vote… pretty straight forward,” said Texas Senator Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, in 2011 as Texas passed its controversial “Voter ID” law.

“You’re going to disenfranchise people,” said Texas Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, on the opposing side of the debate in 2011.

It was some of the toughest safeguards to the election process in the country, but courts have struck many parts of that down. Professor Suri says voter security and voter turn-out are usually related. When one goes up, the other goes down.

“Other countries have higher rates of turnout than the United States but almost no country has had less fraud,” said Suri.

But 2016 has thrown in some wrinkles. Russian hackers have tried to break into other states. Texas’ Secretary of State went so far as to deny a Russian official from touring poll locations on election day.

“It’s a rigged election,” said Donald Trump at another packed rally on the campaign trail.

Texas and county officials say that can’t be farther from the truth. They say because your neighbors run your elections—neighborhood by neighborhood, county by county—it’s hard to hack into or fix an outcome on a large scale.

“They don’t just have to break into one system. They have to break into thousands of systems and each of those systems has the ability to secure itself,” said Suri, who also adds we’re still the best in the world at democracy.

“You vote to affirm your own citizenship… it’s part of the process and ritual of democracy,” he said.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office says they’ll have more than 200 election inspectors out on election day. They’ll be at random locations and also polls where they’ve received complaints.

Early voting starts Monday across Texas. Polls will open at 7 a.m. The early voting period runs until Nov. 4.

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