WESLACO, Texas -- With Election Day around the corner, allegations of voter abuse and irregularities continue to be reported at polling stations across the country.
One Texas border resident has taken matters into her own hands.
With record numbers of people heading to the polls for early voting this year, more eyes are needed to keep the process secure.
After all, suspicion and concerns over a rigged election have been heightened with the current political rhetoric.
But citizens like Mary Helen Flores said that the fraud is real and voters need to do something about it.
“Not because things are being rigged necessarily, but because citizens have to take ownership of the electoral process. It belongs to us,” she said.
In 2010, Flores founded a non-partisan poll watcher group called Citizens Against Voter Abuse after she campaigned for a local candidate who lost and later contested the results.
It was during that process that she learned about “politiqueros,” a person paid by a candidate to harvest votes.
“A person simply fills out a form, mails it in, has the ballot sent to an address that they provide, and votes,” she said.
She eventually learned about poll watching and got law enforcement involved.
The result: nine convictions in 2012.
“I witnessed the mail-in ballot issues first hand,” Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos said.
Cascos grew up on the border and was elected as a Cameron County judge.
“What I’ve seen, they develop a relationship with many of the elderly voters,” he said. “The elderly voter unsuspectingly trusts these people, these men, and women. They visit them on a regular basis, they take them sweet bread, and they take them ice cream, whatever it is.”
According to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, out of 17 convictions of vote-related crimes between 2012 and 2014, 10 of them originated in border counties.
Flores said the high illiteracy rate in the border region may be a factor. However, she believes it is citizen engagement that ultimately helped bring “politiqueros” to justice.
“We need to have some teeth in the penalties when these laws are violated because it’s very important. It’s our democracy!” Flores exclaimed.
Flores said her group is closely monitoring polls and has already reported cases of alleged voter fraud using these harvesting techniques in this election cycle.
If you want to know how to get involved in poll-watching Tuesday, contact your local elections administrator.