HOUSTON-- The saying "vote early and often in the Texas primary" was taken literally last month when 1,148 Harris County residents voted twice and, so far, got away with it.
According to reports, some voters cast ballots by mail during the Early Voting Period and then showed up the day of the primary and were allowed to vote again. Others voted in both the Republican and Democratic primaries. It's still unclear why there were no records of original votes and whether voting authorities plan to act to address the problem.
Many voters have pleaded innocent due to the confusing way Texas handles its primary. It is the only state in the nation to hold both a primary and a caucus on the same day, where you can "vote" twice -- the first being a ballot cast in a voting booth, the second, held after the polls close, is a caucus vote, where citizens verbally "vote" for their candidate.
Some Texans told me, however, that they heard about something called the "Texas Two-Step" -- and thought it meant you could vote twice at the polls. Some even said they voted once for Sen. Obama and once for Sen. Clinton.
Also confusing, they said, were several political websites-- such as this one belonging to "VirginiaDem.org". It was published the week before the Texas primary. The headline reads: "Texans -- Vote Early, Vote Twice, Vote Obama."
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, given his performance on the campaign trail this year, former president Bill Clinton, they say, also helped muddled the process with off the cuff remarks. On a campaign stop in the state in the days leading up the vote, he told a crowd, "Think of it as the only time in your life that you'll get to vote twice without going to jail." He was being facetious -- but apparently some voters took him at his word.
Voting twice isn't a joke. Doing so knowingly can lead to a minimum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Voting fraud of this kind is considered a third-degree felony.
According to Beverly Kaufman, Harris County Clerk, who is chief election official and has served in the Clerk's office for 14 years, a list of "questionable" voting cases from the elections workers has been given to the District Attorney's office for further investigation.
As is the case with many aspects of the primary election this year, Kaufman said this kind of troublwe was all new. Usually, she says, she'd get a "handful" of these "questionable" cases, "not eleven hundred."
Many of these cases are alleged to be presently under investigation. It seems doubtful, though, given the tangled logic of the Texas primary-caucus and numbers of parties involved, that any particular individuals will be held responsible.