Hey, look, it’s actual election news!
Nearly the entire Harris County Democratic legislative delegation has asked the county attorney and district attorney to open a criminal investigation into the candidacy of a Texas House candidate whose existence was called into question after this year’s March election.
The candidate, one of four in the primary race for state Rep. Harold Dutton’s seat, received enough votes to help force Dutton, a longtime Houston Democrat, into a runoff this year.
“We are concerned that more than 2500 Harris County voters may have been duped into voting for a non-existent candidate, a serious theft of those voters’ most important right, and three legitimate candidates were harmed by the crimes committed,” reads the March 18 letter, which was signed by every delegation member except Dutton and released to a Tribune reporter on Thursday. “We request that your offices coordinate an immediate investigation into the events documented in the attached memo and take appropriate prosecutorial action at the earliest possible time.”
Dutton was the only Democrat from Houston not to sign the letter.
Dutton, who had previously said he had hired a private investigator to look into the matter, told the Tribune on Thursday that he was not involved with the delegation’s letter to Ogg and Ryan and was focused on winning the runoff election, which is now slated for mid-July instead of May.
“I hope someone takes a look at the system that allows this to happen and cleans it up so that it can’t happen again,” he said. “If there are people who have engaged in a conspiracy, I hope that law enforcement will deal with them in the proper context.”
The delegation’s letter also included an attached “Indices of Election Fraud,” which detailed the background of the long-winding drama and “known facts indicating election fraud.”
See here and here for the background. The letter sent by the delegation is here, and the “Indices of Fraud” attachment is here. The latter is the more interesting, and contains the most new information. It suggests strongly that the person originally identified as “Natasha Demming” is not the person who filed for a spot on the ballot, but was perhaps a victim of identity theft. What I had considered to be the wilder option, that someone impersonated this person when they filed for this seat, appears to be the more likely explanation based on what the delegation claims.
So yeah, this should be investigated. Start by talking to the private eye that Dutton hired, and talk to all the political insiders to see what crazy things they might have heard about this. The big question here isn’t who did this (if it really was a deliberate attempt to put a sham candidate on the ballot) but why they did it. If the intent was to hurt Dutton’s re-election chances, it seems to me that there are more straightforward ways to do that than putting an impostor on the ballot in the hope of forcing Dutton into a runoff that maybe he’d lose. (What do you think might have happened if Dutton’s runoff opponent had been Natasha Ruiz, for example?) For sure, if there is someone behind this, maybe that person isn’t the most clear-headed thinker you’ve ever known. Whatever the case, getting a handle on the motivation might at least point you in the direction of a suspect. There doesn’t appear to be much physical evidence (unless maybe someone managed to take a picture of “Natasha Ruiz”), so if this gets cracked it’ll be because someone talked. Find out who that might be, and the rest may follow.
UPDATE: And indeed, there will be an investigation.
The Harris County Attorney’s office told the Houston Chronicle on Thursday that it was looking into the matter.
The county’s District Attorney Kim Ogg responded to the delegation in late March by saying that she had forwarded the case to the public corruption division but could not confirm or deny whether it was under investigation.
“Please be assured that the protection of our democratic election process, along with enforcement of all related laws, is a top priority for my administration and that your complaint will be addressed by this office,” Ogg wrote.
Not exactly sure why it’s the County Attorney jumping in on this, but whatever. I very much look forward to seeing the results.