Election integrity is a hot topic in the Texas Legislature this session—yet, as of May 15, not one priority election reform bill has been sent to the governor’s desk.
Grassroots activists in the Republican Party of Texas chose election integrity as their top legislative priority for 2021—the second session in a row it’s been an RPT priority.
GOP lawmakers responded, the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House put election reforms near the top of their lists of must-pass bills, and election integrity was the only RPT legislative priority given fast-track emergency status by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott back on February 1.
Abbott said in March he was ready to sign “robust” election reform bills sent to his desk by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Texans are still waiting.
The Senate passed five of its six RPT-priority election integrity bills in April. The House passed one of its 16 RPT-priority bills in April and two more this month; one more is still active, and the rest are dead.
Two priority election bills have cleared both chambers but in different forms that must be reconciled and re-approved before going to the governor.
With just two weeks left for Texas lawmakers to act, here’s where the grassroots’ top-priority election integrity issues and bills stand.
Progress Report: Priority Issues
This year’s election reform priorities are much the same as in past sessions: clean up voter rolls, secure mail ballots, stop illegal voter assistance, make sure voting machines produce accurate results, and punish cheaters.
Some new issues did emerge in 2020: local election officials using COVID as an excuse to make up their own voting rules, outside money influencing how elections are administered, and the renewed threat of a federal takeover of state elections.
The RPT’s Legislative Priorities Committee specified two election integrity policy goals (bracketed bill numbers are still-active priorities that meet the goal):
- Set felony penalties for election fraud crimes [SB 7, HB 574]
- Verify only citizens are registering and voting in Texas elections [HB 2339/SB 155]
An ad hoc RPT committee revived from last session set additional election reform goals for 2021:
- Improve ballot security [SB 7, SB 598, SB 1234, HB 3276]
- Improve voter roll maintenance [SB 155/HB 2339]
- Strengthen penalties and enforcement for fraudsters and election officials [SB 1113]
The Texas Freedom Caucus, a group of Republican House members who tend to support conservative legislation, released a similar list of election integrity priorities.
In addition to cleaning up voter rolls and reforming mail-in balloting, election integrity watchdog group Direct Action Texas prioritized a third area of needed reform:
- Ban use of outside money to fund government election offices [HB 2283]
Grassroots election integrity activists identified additional priorities:
- Auditable paper trails for voting systems (a carryover that failed to pass last session) [SB 598, SB 1234]
- Poll watcher protections [SB 7]
- Prohibiting public officials from altering, suspending, or waiving election rules [SB 7]
- Expedited legal proceedings in election-related cases [SB 7]
A number of House and Senate bills were filed to address these concerns, either individually or in comprehensive “omnibus” bills.
Progress Report: RPT Priority Bills
Passed the Senate
The Senate passed five of its six RPT-priority election integrity bills in April:
- Senate Bill 7, omnibus. Status: Passed both chambers. All provisions of the original bill were wiped out when the House replaced the contents of SB 7 with the language in HB 6. The House-passed version of SB 7 (with multiple amendments) awaits further action by the Senate (conference committee).
- Senate Bill 155, a voter roll maintenance bill. Status: Considered in the House in lieu of companion priority HB 2339 on May 13; postponed until May 17.
- Senate Bill 598, requiring voting systems to produce auditable paper trails. Status: Awaiting House Elections Committee action.
- Senate Bill 1113, a voter roll maintenance accountability/enforcement measure. Status: Awaiting House Elections Committee action. Companion priority HB 4044 is dead.
- Senate Bill 1234, requiring voting systems to produce auditable paper trails. Status: Awaiting House Elections Committee action.
Senate Bill 1235, an RPT-priority voter roll maintenance reform, moved out of committee but has never been placed on the Senate calendar.
The Senate has also passed one RPT-priority House election integrity bill, HB 574 (see below).
Passed the House
The House has passed three RPT-priority election bills:
- House Bill 6, omnibus. Status: Technically tabled, provisions of the bill passed the House in the form of a substitute version of Senate Bill 7 (with multiple amendments).
- House Bill 574, setting felony penalties for certain new election fraud crimes. Status: Passed both chambers. The Senate-passed version awaits further action by the House.
- House Bill 3276, a transparency bill providing for live-streamed video surveillance of ballot counting. Status: Awaiting Senate State Affairs Committee action.
- House Bill 2339 [pending], a voter roll maintenance bill. Status: Companion priority SB 155 was considered in the House in lieu of HB 2339 on May 13; postponed until May 17.
Died in the House
Two RPT-priority election integrity bills died because they were not placed on the House calendar in time to receive consideration by the May 13 deadline:
- House Bill 2321, a mail-ballot signature verification reform.
- House Bill 2546, a voter roll maintenance enforcement measure.
Seven RPT-priority election integrity bills died because they were not moved out of the House Calendars Committee for consideration by the full House:
- House Bill 1708, requiring voting systems to include auditable paper trails and allowing voting systems with hand-marked paper ballots to be used with countywide vote centers. A similar paper-trail provision is included in SB 598. A similar countywide voting provision was amended onto SB 7.
- House Bill 2478, adding a voter ID requirement for mail-in ballots. Similar to SB 1509.
- House Bill 3281, changing dates for mail ballots to be received and counted.
- House Bill 3297, adding new election fraud offenses and felony penalties.
- House Bill 4044, a voter roll maintenance enforcement measure. Similar to SB 1113.
- House Bill 4331, making paid vote harvesting a felony and adding a civil right of action. A similar vote-harvesting provision is included in SB 7.
- House Bill 4369, a mail-ballot signature verification reform.
RPT-priority House Bills 329, 335, and 1368 never received committee hearings.
Other Key Bills
Several key election reforms are contained in House and Senate bills not designated priorities by the RPT:
- House Bill 2283, banning county election offices from taking private third-party contributions, like the huge amounts of cash Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg funneled to select local election administrators in 2020. Status: Passed the House with bipartisan support, scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee May 17.
- Senate Bill 1111, clarifying voters must register to vote at a place they actually inhabit. Status: Passed the Senate, awaiting House Elections Committee action.
- Senate Bill 1114, codifying voter roll maintenance practices implemented in accordance with a settlement agreement. Status: Passed the Senate, awaiting House Elections Committee action.
- Senate Bill 1509, adding a voter ID requirement for mail-in ballots. Similar to RPT-priority HB 2478 (dead). Status: Passed the Senate, awaiting House Elections Committee action.
- Senate Bill 1675, prohibiting changes to vote-by-mail laws other than by the Legislature. Status: Passed the Senate, awaiting House Elections Committee action.
Other key election bills are dead:
- House Bill 4498, implementing online voter registration in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act. Status: Died in committee.
- House Bill 4507, a “trigger” bill to separate state and federal elections in the event Congress passes H.R. 1. Status: Died on the House calendar.
Texas Scorecard is continuing to track the progress of key election integrity bills in the House and Senate through the end of the legislative session.
House bills that didn’t pass to engrossment by midnight Thursday, May 13, are dead—though some provisions could be resurrected by being added to a similar bill in conference committee. The House will now focus on processing Senate bills ahead of the next set of deadlines.
Senate rules are more flexible, but senators must get their bills to the House in time to meet the lower chamber’s deadlines, as well as deal with bills received from the House.
Both chambers must also review bills passed in different forms by the House and Senate and either vote to concur with the other chamber’s changes, or else form a conference committee of five members from each body to reconcile differences into a version that both chambers must approve.
Deadlines for the remainder of the session:
- May 22: Last day for House to vote Senate bills out of committee.
- May 25: Last day for House to consider Senate bills on second reading.
- May 29: Last day House and Senate can distribute conference committee reports.
- May 30: Last day House or Senate can adopt conference committee reports and finally pass bills.
- May 31: Last day of 87th Legislative Session.
Grassroots election integrity advocates say they expect lawmakers to deliver real results in the form of priority reforms but remain skeptical.
The clock is ticking for the Republican-controlled Legislature to get priority election reform bills to the governor’s desk before the session ends.