The Republican Primary race to be the next State Representative in House District 81 (HD-81) is heating up, with challenger Casey Gray going after incumbent State Representative Brooks Landgraf’s (R-Odessa) controversial vote to reduce the penalty for five core election fraud statutes from major felonies to misdemeanors – and now, Landgraf is firing back. 

At issue is a controversial amendment to the “Election Integrity” legislation passed during the second special session of the Texas Legislature in late 2020, that reduced the offense for five core elements of election fraud from second-degree felonies to class A misdemeanors

The five offenses, listed under Texas Law as “illegal voting” include knowingly: 

  • Voting or attempting to vote in an election in which the person knows they are not eligible to vote in. 
  • Votes or attempts to vote more than once in an election. 
  • Votes or attempts to vote a ballot belonging to someone else or impersonating someone else to illegally vote their ballot. 
  • Changing someone else’s ballot without their consent. 
  • Voting in another state, and then voting in the same election in Texas for which a federal office appears on the ballot. 

Landgraf is shown in legislative records voting for the amendment, which caused tremendous controversy and prompted Governor Greg Abbott to add the issue back on the third special session agenda. 

The Texas Senate quickly passed legislation that would prevent the penalty reduction for the offenses from going into effect, but the House of Representatives refused to take up the legislation. 

Gray, a retired military veteran, has been going after Landgraf for his vote in both sponsored Facebook ads, and in radio interviews, saying if elected he intends to “make voter fraud a felony again.” 

Landgraf’s responses have varied, with Landgraf first weighing in on the issue during his Odessa townhall in which he told constituents three times that he had nothing to do with the amendment, rather, he described in detail how the amendment was added onto the bill via conference committee, and he had no control over that happening. 

“There was a provision that was changed in conference, that for certain offenses reduced the charge from a felony charge down to a misdemeanor charge, and I think that was a mistake – that should not have happened, that is something we need to fix. It was thrown in via the House Senate conference committee report, and we were in a situation where we had to vote for the whole thing or not vote for it at all,” Landgraf told his Odessa townhall constituents. 

Odessa Headlines pressed Landgraf to revisit his remarks, pointing out that it was widely reported in statewide media the changes Landgraf described were added via a floor amendment by State Representative Steve Allison, and that Landgraf was shown in legislative records voting for the amendment. 

But Landgraf continued to double down on the story in detail.

“What I spoke about earlier is that Steve Allison was a conferee on the senate-house conference committee, that was a provision that was included in the conference committee report, and the report is sent to the senate and house for an up or down vote,” Landgraf responded, adding, “It was basically vote yes or no on the entire bill.” 

Even after questioning Landgraf a second time on his story, he continued to adamantly maintain that the amendment was added via conference committee and that he did not vote for it. 

Landgraf later retracted that story in a late-night Facebook comment and apologized after being pressed by Odessa Headlines regarding the inaccuracy of his claims. 

“During tonight’s Ector County town hall meeting, I mistakenly said that language added to the Texas election integrity legislation that reduced the penalty for voter fraud was added in conference committee when it was added as a floor amendment,” Landgraf wrote on Facebook in his retraction, continuing further adding, “I apologize for my lapse in memory, and want to set the record straight after accidentally misspeaking.” 

He also pledged to fix the issue in 2023. 

Notably, when the Texas Senate passed legislation fixing the issue during the third special session last year, Landgraf does not appear as a co-author of any companion House legislation that would have fixed the issue.

But Landgraf’s rebuttals on the issue have continued, indirectly accusing Gray’s campaign of trying to “deceitfully spin this election integrity law” in a response to a constituent on Facebook– with Landgraf now describing the offenses simply as “ineligible voting.” 

“The election integrity bill that I voted for increases penalties for 25 different forms of voter fraud/election tampering. It’s the biggest crackdown on voter fraud in Texas history! Some people are trying to deceitfully spin this election integrity law saying that it only reduces penalties for voter fraud. That’s false. There was one amendment to the bill that created 6 new felony charges for voter fraud, and by mistake, that same amendment also decreased the penalty for ineligible voting to a misdemeanor. I take responsibility for the mistake (every Republican voted for it). I will also be voting to fix it during the next session. But don’t be misled. Here’s the cold-hard truth: the bill increases penalties for 25 different forms of voter fraud. I’m against voter fraud, and that’s why I was proud to vote for the election integrity bill.” 

State Representative Brooks Landgraf

Gray has gone after Landgraf’s version of the issue on a post in his campaign his website, charactering Landgraf’s statements as “dishonesty” and that his explanation is “hyperbole.”  

“The facts are that Brooks Landgraf voted in favor of reducing penalties of voter fraud from a State Felony to a Class A Misdemeanor,” Gray wrote.

Landgraf is correct pointing out that the same amendment added six state jail felony offenses to the bill that include five prohibited acts by elected officials, and an upgraded offense to lying on a voter registration application.

But his accounts of the controversial provisions have been vague, and his overall responses on the controversy have been inaccurate and varied, particularly his first account to constituents that he later retracted.  

Odessa Headlines was referred to Alan Vera for comment regarding the impact of the amendment. Vera serves the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party Ballot Security Committee. 

Vera, who worked with lawmakers on drafting the Texas election integrity legislation, issued a statement elaborating that if backlogs in the judicial system stemming from the pandemic prevent prosecutors from pursuing misdemeanor violations, the end result could mean law breakers getting a free pass. 

“The impact on the November 2022 mid-term elections could be significant,” Vera wrote. 

Matt Stringer is a journalist from Odessa, Texas.