DONNA, Texas (KXAN) — As Republican-led legislation aimed to clamp down on alleged widespread voter fraud, one 2012 school board election near the Texas-Mexico border has remained a key talking point for Gov. Greg Abbott.
On Monday, Abbott announced plans for a new bill meant to combat fraud — in addition to what he says is “unauthorized” expansion of voting. The governor called for bipartisan support for the bill, even pointing to former Democratic President Barack Obama as an example.
Using an example he also discussed over the weekend on Fox News, Abbott claimed the Obama administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation worked to prosecute a “voter fraud scheme” in south Texas in 2014 where a man reportedly gave people cocaine in exchange for their vote.
But the incident of fraud was not widespread — neither was it a state or national election.
While 47-year-old Francisco “Frankie” Garcia was charged with conspiring to buy votes, the election in question was for a local school board election in Donna, Texas.
The U.S. Justice Department said Garcia was a former campaign manager for four candidates on the school board. During the election, he reportedly bought votes in exchange for cash and/or cocaine.
Court documents, according to the New York Times, show many voters were paid as little as $3 for their votes, which many were willing to accept given the area’s relative poverty.
The 2012 school board election also served residents another shock when board president Alfredo Lugo committed suicide just days after the campaign workers were arrested. Lugo won re-election in 2012.
The FBI and other officials have not commented on whether Lugo was being in investigated.
While one Donna worker told NYT she estimates about 2,000 votes were bought in the 2012 board election, the overall results have never been properly investigated due to scope and amount of work it would require.
The Donna School Board incident remains a talking point for Abbott, who also pointed to an October 2020 KXAN Investigation that found only 150 voter fraud charges in Texas since 2004. Many online questioned whether or not this constituted a widespread problem.
Meanwhile, The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at the New York University Law School, has widely researched instances of voter fraud. In one of its most noted reports, “The Truth About Voter Fraud,” the center reports “voter fraud” is most often exaggerated.
Additionally, the report said claims of voter fraud don’t take into account honest mistakes by voters: for instance, someone may not be aware they are currently ineligible to vote and may cast a ballot without knowing it.
Last year, Dr. Brian Smith, a political science professor at St. Edwards University, explained it would be incredibly hard to commit fraud at such a high level as to alter the outcome of an election in Texas, because they’re not typically close.
The closest Texas Senate election in 40 years was 2018’s matchup between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke. It’s considered close and Cruz still won by 220,000 votes.