A dozen bills designed to make Texas elections more secure and election officials more accountable received a public hearing Monday in the Senate State Affairs Committee.
Election security is a major concern in the state. Local elections are especially vulnerable to manipulation and fraud. Last year, Texas courts overturned three local contests due to fraudulent voting, and authorities have pursued dozens of voter fraud investigations and prosecutions statewide.
State Sen. Pat Fallon (R–Prosper) told the committee the vast majority of cheating in Texas elections is through organized harvesting of hundreds or even thousands of votes—an assertion confirmed by recent arrests of multiple suspects engaged in vote harvesting schemes in Tarrant County and across the state. A number of reforms proposed Monday build on laws enacted last session to detect and prosecute mail ballot harvesting and organized election fraud.
Illegal voting by ineligible people on the state’s voter rolls is another top concern identified by last session’s Senate Select Committee on Election Security, chaired by State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Mineola). Proposals from Hughes and others focused on maintaining accurate voter registration lists, including identifying and removing noncitizens and other ineligible people from the rolls.
Hughes dominated Monday’s election integrity agenda, offering bills on mail ballot fraud and voter list maintenance, as well as accountability and electioneering. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) tackled voting process issues ranging from “rolling polling” (moving polling places to different locations throughout an election) to verifying voters’ eligibility and prohibiting voters from registering at commercial mailbox addresses. Fallon targeted school district electioneering and organized mail ballot fraud. State Sens. Charles Perry (R–Lubbock) and Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) proposed accountability measures for state and local officials.
State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D–Laredo), who served with Hughes on the Election Security Committee, focused on mail ballot fraud, which she said often victimizes elderly voters.
Below is a summary of election integrity bills heard Monday in committee (quotes are from the bills’ authors):
- Senate Bill 205* (Perry et al): Accountability
Adds the attorney general to the list of officials receiving quarterly updates of registered voters excused from jury duty because they identified as noncitizens or nonresidents; directs the attorney general to investigate if they illegally registered and voted. “Anybody should be able to compare those records for purposes of enforcement.”
- Senate Bill 901 (Hughes): Mail Ballot Fraud
Allows election officials to compare mail ballot signatures with multiple other signatures to detect possible fraud; requires mail-in and in-person early voting ballots to be stored and reported separately; increases the penalty for mail ballot fraud to a state jail felony. “We want to make sure that every vote is counted and the intent of the voter is what’s counted.”
- Senate Bill 902* (Hughes): Accountability
Requires records of state and countywide elections be made publicly available in electronic format by the 15th day after an election, for a fee of no more than $50; requires daily voting rosters to be publicly available and posted on the secretary of state’s website; ties election contest filing deadlines to dates election records are publicly available. “Increased accountability increases voter confidence.”
- Senate Bill 903 (Hughes): Voter Rolls
Makes currently optional voter roll maintenance mandatory. Requires the secretary of state and Texas Department of Public Safety to cooperatively verify voters’ registration data; requires county registrars to verify potential ineligible voters, including noncitizens; directs the secretary of state to make corrections to voter rolls that local registrars refuse to make and imposes a fine of $100 per violation; requires registrars to notify the secretary of state and attorney general when someone ineligible registers or votes; increases the penalty for election fraud to a state jail felony. “The driver’s license system has a documentary verification process, but voter registration does not.”
- Senate Bill 904* (Hughes): Electioneering
Prohibits government employees and third parties from sending political emails or other electronic messages via a government system; sets a civil penalty of $100 per offense. “This is about protecting government email systems for public use only.”
- Senate Bill 966 (Bettencourt): “Rolling Polling”
Restricts mobile polling in counties of 100,000 or more (about 40 Texas counties), allowing mobile polling places to be changed only once during early voting, at least halfway through the early voting period. “If polling places are moved rapidly, it just causes more confusion for voters.”
- Senate Bill 1190* (Bettencourt) Voter Rolls
Prohibits voters from registering at addresses of commercial post office boxes or other locations that don’t correspond to a residence. “You want a voter roll with integrity that everybody can believe in.”
- Senate Bill 1254* (Bettencourt): Amends process for verifying registered voters’ eligibility to specifically include citizenship status data received from DPS on a weekly basis. “This will allow the secretary of state to be more effective.”
- Senate Bill 1568* (Fallon): Organized Election Fraud
Adds a civil penalty of $1,000 per offense to the current criminal penalty for organized election fraud activity; allows the attorney general to seek an injunction to stop criminal behavior during an election. “It’s another tool in the tool belt to fight against voter fraud.”
- Senate Bill 1569 (Fallon): Electioneering
Prohibits school district trustees, employees, or contractors from spending public funds or district resources to electioneer; prohibits communicating about political issues during school hours or using district equipment, email/social media accounts, or mailing lists. Individuals are free to express political opinions outside of work, “but they can’t do it on company time or using company resources.”
- Senate Bill 1611* (Hall): Voter Rolls
Codifies secretary of state’s authority to monitor county voter registration officials’ compliance with list maintenance laws; sets a penalty of $100 per violation for registrars who fail to properly maintain their voter lists. “This bill would create more accountability for local registrars.”
- Senate Bill 1638 (Zaffirini): Mail Ballot Fraud
Allows election officials to compare signatures on multiple mail-in ballot envelopes to help detect possible fraud; requires mail-in and in-person early voting ballots to be stored and reported separately. “Perpetrators [of mail ballot voter fraud] target elderly voters living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities who would be unreliable witnesses if such fraud was uncovered and investigated.”
*Committee substitute submitted.
In addition to the above bills working their way through committee, two key election integrity bills advanced to the Senate intent calendar this week. Senate Bill 9, an omnibus bill by Hughes, targets mail ballot fraud and illegal voter assistance by closing loopholes in the voting process that accommodate cheating. Fallon’s Senate Bill 1048 mandates November uniform elections for all school board trustees and school bonds, which would boost participation in the high-stakes elections.
Time is running short for bills to work their way through both chambers before the end of the legislative session. Texans who want voting processes enacted that make their elections more secure should encourage state lawmakers to act promptly on these bills.