After cancelling a planned morning press conference, the Vote YES Ranger College Committee issued a press release on Friday accusing the Citizens Against Ranger Tax Annexation of possible illegal activity.
The release includes screenshots of a CARTA Facebook post that says landlords have been sending letters to tenants saying their rents will increase by $50 if the Ranger College annexation effort passes. “I encourage anyone in our group that has rental property to send out a similar letter to your tenants encouraging them to vote against!” the post says.
Vote YES called that figure “outrageous” — “The actual increase would be an average $8 per month,” the release says — but also said the letters and post may be “breaking state law.”
“It is against the law to offer inducements or penalties for people voting or how they vote,” the release says. It requests that anyone who receives such a letter from their landlord send a copy of that letter to the Vote YES PAC “so we can share with the proper law enforcement authorities.”
When asked for a copy of such a letter, Vote YES spokesman Justin Murphy suggested the Bulletin contact CARTA directly.
Vote YES also said in the release that they are preparing a notice for the Attorney General of Texas and the local district attorney, and they sent the Bulletin a copy of that notice late Friday afternoon. It is addressed to Brown County District Attorney Michael Murray, Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
“We believe that certain individuals are knowingly and willfully producing and disseminating false information in an effort to illegally coerce voters with respect to the Ranger College expansion election,” it reads. “These activities represent a pattern of conduct which has as its intended effect the improper manipulation of the balloting process.”
The notice says Vote YES will file a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission.
The Bulletin contacted District Attorney Murray on Friday before the notice was issued, and he said Vote YES should take its concerns to law enforcement if it believes a law has been broken. He said it may be “premature” for Vote YES to involve the district attorney.
Murray also said the attorney general’s office lacks the authority to investigate without a referral from a district attorney, though the attorney general is tasked with preventing voter fraud.
When asked about the press release during a presentation to the Brown County Republican Women, CARTA member Barry Carter said he couldn’t comment without studying the Vote YES allegations.
Section 36.03 of the Texas Penal Code does state in part, “A person commits an offense if by means of coercion he … influences or attempts to influence a voter not to vote or to vote in a particular manner.”
After the Bulletin announced on Facebook that the Vote YES morning press conference had been postponed, John Hatch of Texas Petition Strategies posted the full Vote YES press release in the comments. “We would like to hear the opposition group explain why they are ‘ok’ with this tactic — which is not only dirty politics, but possibly illegal,” Hatch said.
Texas Petition Strategies collected the signatures to trigger the Ranger ballot initiative earlier this summer.
The Bulletin reached out to Vote YES coordinator Gordon Warren and CARTA member Carla Trussell for comment, but had not received a response as of this writing.