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PATRICIA MOORE 100.44444,10mNAN Wft …….,^ Cynthia Yvette Lee and Bettye Livingston Special Delivery BY JANE GRANDOLFO Houston BETTY LIVINGSTON THOUGHT THE CAM-paign worker who came to her home was simply being friendly. Livingston, a 50-year-old blind and partially paralyzed woman, lives in Acres Homes, an inner-city neighborhood of two-bedroom bungalows with burglar bars, pocked with weeded lots and the ruins of razed crack houses. She pays little attention to local politics but she knew enough about the 15th Senate District race last spring to know it was a contest she intended to avoid. But when a kindly neighbor who worked for state Sen. John Whitmire came by with a mail ballot application one day, Livingston agreed to sign it. “My husband, because he works late and sometimes is late coming in, I asked the lady if my husband could vote when I vote,” Livingston said. “She sent me and him a ballot in the mail.” It was uncanny how the campaign worker showed up at Livingston’s house again the same day the ballot arrived in her mailbox. She stayed and offered to help Livingston fill it out. “The lady came by and read the names of the people to me and I punched the number,” Livingston said. “She mailed it for me too.” The woman didn’t leave, however, until Livingston’s husband, David, who is 47 years old and in good health, had also voted. His ballot was marked disabled. That scene, or variations thereof, were repeated throughout Acres Homes last spring as hundreds of elderly and disabled people gave John Whitmire the edge he needed to beat state Rep. Roman Martinez in the Democratic runoff. While mail voting isn’t new Texans have been doing it for decades the stunning effectiveness with which it was used to annihilate two Hispanic candidates in majority Hispanic districts will shape the face of Houston politics for years to come. Whitmire and state Sen. Gene Green both veteran, white lawmakers from Houston pooled their resources in their respective Democratic runoffs earlier this year, engineering a sophisticated mail ballot blitz that left their opponents with their heads spinning and the Latino community with their hopes dashed. Their biggest disappointment was in the new 29th Congressional District, created specifically to help send Houston’s first Hispanic member of Congress to Washington. Green defeated Ben Reyes, Houston’s dominant Hispanic politician, who even had a hand in crafting the district. Green and Whitmire now are the odds-on Jane Grandolfo is a freelance journalist working in Houston. This story was funded by a grant from the Institute for Alternative Journalism. favorites in next week’s general election. That both candidates could withstand the largest Hispanic vote turnout in Houston’s history to capture their primaries proves just how effective an aggressive mail-vote can be. Anticipating a large Hispanic turnout, both Whitmire and Green encouraged thousands of senior citizens to vote by mail. That powerful head start gave them enough votes in the can to lose on election day and still come out ahead. They employed a legal but dubious campaign technique which takes advantage of a provision in the state election code, allowing the dis abled, out-of-county travelers and people 65 and older to vote by mail. “We’re seeing time and time again that the most likely place to find vote fraud is in the mail balloting process,” said Tom Harrison, who directs the elections division of the Secretary of State’s Office. “And usually it’s campaign workers taking advantage of the elderly or disabled.” Political operatives have been using this technique for years in South Texas, San Antonio and in East Texas, most notably in the 1985 1st Congressional District an expensive and divi 6 OCTOBER 30, 1992