DALLAS – Punishment for voter fraud in Texas is not as strong as it could be to prevent people from trying to steal elections, said a local election law attorney.

“Well, it’s incredibly hard [to prosecute],” said attorney Wade Emmert. “There’s simply not enough resources dedicated by local and statewide authorities to investigation and prosecution. The other problem is even if they are successful, the penalties for these crimes are relatively low. The top crime for ballot harvesting of 20 ballots or more is between 180 days and two years in prison and a fine. The penalties just aren’t that great.”

Emmert, the former chair of the Dallas County Republican Party, said the Texas Legislature not only needs to add more resources into fighting this type of crime and corruption, but also strengthen penalties.

“I think we also need to look at the process of counting these mail-in ballots. You’ve got a signature verification board that simply tries to match-up signatures between the one who requested the ballot and the one who actually signed it. But there’s no objectivity there. Many times, in Dallas County they just accept every ballot that comes across their desk,” explained Emmert who has witnessed the process multiple times.

Mail-in ballots, available to voters over 65 or those who are disabled, remain susceptible to fraud especially in low-turnout municipal elections, where a dozen or so votes could determine a winner.

The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office is investigating allegations of voter fraud with mail-in ballots during the May 6 elections. In some districts, there were abnormally high numbers of mail-in ballots submitted. Some voters complained they received mail-in ballots without ever requesting them.

Dallas County must verify the voter in a mail-in ballot but is not required by state law to verify the person assisting in completing it, which makes fraud possible.

State lawmakers do need to strengthen election laws to catch “bad guys,” said Toni Pippins-Poole, Dallas County Elections Administrator, to a city council committee last week.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told her that they should work with state lawmakers before the 2019 sessions to make changes.

The comments come after a series of stories on WFAA last week at 10 p.m., which explored and exposed the problem. Secret recordings licensed by WFAA captured a campaign worker who explained how it is possible.

“Well, your story was very insightful but quite frankly it’s nothing new. Voter fraud, especially ballot harvesting has been happening for decades and even in Dallas County. What is unique and shocking is how readily he admitted to participating in that process,” said Emmert.

When asked whether it is time for a change in leadership at the Dallas County Elections Office, Emmert said: “Look, I have confidence in Toni Pippins-Poole. In all of my dealings with her she’s been forthright with me. What concerns me if there is someone in the elections department that is providing information, or worse, ballots I think that is a concern we need to look at.”