AUSTIN, Texas (KETK) - A Gregg County Commissioner and others have been arrested and charged with voting violations.

According to a press release from the Gregg County District Attorney’s Office, Gregg County Commissioner Shannon Brown, Marlena Jackson, Charlie Burns, and DeWayne Ward were indicted Wednesday and have been charged with multiple counts of Engaging in Organized Election Fraud, Fraudulent Use of Mail Ballot Application, Unlawful Possession of Ballot/Ballot Envelope, Election Fraud, and Tampering With a Governmental Record.

The charges come in connection with an organized vote harvesting scheme during the 2018 Democratic primary election.

The charges stem from allegations of vote harvesting made during the 2018 election race for Gregg County Pct. 4 County Commissioner between Brown and Kasha Williams.

According to District Attorney Tom Watson, the investigation began after the 2018 Democratic primary election when a concerned citizen filed a complaint alleging fraudulent voting practices occurring within Gregg County’s Precinct 4.

During the 2018 race for the Precinct 4 Commissioner seat between Kasha Williams and Shannon
Brown, a large number of mail-in voter ballots showed glaring irregularities due to the number of
voter ballots requested based on voter disability. Over 360 mail-in voter ballots were requested in
Precinct 4 claiming voter disability.

In comparison, Precincts 1, 2, and 3, combined, had less than 15 requests for mail-in ballots due to voter disability. While Kasha Williams led Shannon Brown by more than 20 percentage points during in-person voting, seventy-three percent of the mail-in ballots were cast in favor of Shannon Brown, ultimately leading to his victory.

He squeaked by Williams in the election by just four votes.

That race drew more mail-in ballots by far than the county’s other three precincts combined. It also seemed to have an unusually high percentage of people younger than 65 who claimed a disability as their reason for voting by mail.

The 787 mail-in ballots tallied in the March primary represent more than 37 percent of votes cast in the Brown/Williams contest, which Brown won by five votes. Of the 787 ballot applications, at least 226 claimed a disability — almost 29 percent.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office is accusing Brown, Jackson, Burns, and Ward of being “ballot harvesters,” or people who deliver mail-in votes for a candidate for money.

The indictment alleges that the group targeted young, able-bodied voters to cast ballots by mail by fraudulently claiming they were disabled in order to increase the pool of ballots needed to swing the race in Brown’s favor.

“Voting is one of our most precious rights as Americans,” said Watson. “We get to choose who we want to represent our interests, locally, statewide, and nationally. Unfortunately, there are individuals out there who would jeopardize the integrity of our elections for personal gain. My office stands strong with the Attorney General’s Office to ensure that the integrity of our electoral system is protected.”

Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) issued the following statement in conjunction with Representative Jay Dean (R- Longview) on the indictments:

“Today a Gregg County Grand Jury indicted four defendants on election offenses committed during the 2018 Democratic primary race for Gregg County Commissioner for Precinct Four. The indictment alleges 134 felony counts against the four defendants, including Gregg County Commissioner Shannon Brown. The indictments cover a range of offenses including engaging in organized election fraud and fraudulent use of a mail ballot application.

“During the 2018 race between Kasha Williams and Mr. Brown, some concerning numbers were released.

“In all other Gregg County precincts, a combined total of 12 mail ballot applications were requested based on a voter’s disability. In Precinct 4, voters requested 366 ballots based on the voters’ disabilities. While Williams defeated Brown by more than 20 points in in-person early voting and election day ballots, 73% of these 366 mail ballot votes were cast for Brown, who ultimately won the election by five votes. According to county elections data, 69% percent of mail ballot applications for Brown’s race were marked as being assisted by a third-party.”

“Voting by mail is an important tool for our over-65 and disabled citizens. Mail-in ballots are also most vulnerable to cheating and fraud. We must protect Texas election integrity and we will,” said Hughes.

“The alleged account of voter fraud appears so clearly to be a problem in our districts, but we are encouraged by the attention it has brought to the issue, both here and statewide, and by the opportunity to fix this problem.,” said Dean.

Under Texas election law, mail ballots based on disability are specifically reserved for those who are physically ill and cannot vote in-person as a result.

The state filed 134 felony charges against the four defendants, including engaging in organized election fraud, illegal voting, fraudulent use of an application for a mail-in ballot, unlawful possession of a mail-in ballot, tampering with a governmental record, and election fraud.

Penalties for these offenses range from six months in state jail to 99 years in prison.

“It is an unfortunate reality that elections can be stolen outright by mail ballot fraud. Election fraud, particularly an organized mail ballot fraud scheme orchestrated by political operatives, is an affront to democracy and results in voter disenfranchisement and corruption at the highest level,” said Paxton. “Mail ballots are vulnerable to diversion, coercion, and influence by organized vote harvesting schemes. This case demonstrates my commitment to ensuring Texas has the most secure elections in the country, and I thank the Gregg County Sheriff and District Attorney for their continued partnership. Those who try to manipulate the outcome of elections in Texas must be held accountable.”

A grand jury returned indictments on 23 felony counts against Commissioner Brown, 97 felony counts against Marlena Jackson, eight felony counts against Charlie Burns, and six felony counts against DeWayne Ward. The Office of the Attorney General was assisted by the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office during the investigation. The Texas Attorney General will prosecute this case alongside the Gregg County District Attorney.

Read copies of the indictments here.