Today, Texas’ governor publicly threw his support behind “robust legislation” to improve election integrity—a top legislative priority for the Texas GOP and the only one also designated an emergency item by the Republican governor.

Election integrity “is an issue that is so important to our fellow Texans,” Gov. Greg Abbott said at a press conference Monday with State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) and State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park), both authors of major election reform bills this session.

“We must have trust and confidence in our elections,” Abbott said. “The way to do that is to reduce the potential for voter fraud in our elections.”

“The fact is, election fraud does occur,” he said, adding it’s a bipartisan issue. “It doesn’t matter what party you’re in. … Election fraud is unacceptable, and that’s exactly why I made it an emergency item this session.”

Abbott said preventing election fraud “is far more than just a legislative concept or a goal to be achieved. In the state of Texas, it’s a constitutional obligation.”

Abbott thanked Bettencourt and Cain for providing “robust legislation that they are working with the Legislature as we speak to get through the Capitol and to get to my desk, so I can sign it.”

Bettencourt’s package of election reform bills, referred to collectively as the “Integrity Seven,” focuses on fixes for specific problems experienced locally in the 2020 election: maintaining accurate voter rolls, setting uniform and transparent voting processes, enforcing compliance by local election officials, and ensuring election disputes are resolved quickly by courts.

Senate Bill 1111, for example, is designed to prevent voters from unlawfully registering at commercial addresses. On Monday, Bettencourt said nearly 5,000 people are registered at private P.O. boxes in Harris County.

“It’s preposterous,” he said. “People don’t live at the UPS store.”

Senate Bill 1114 requires local voter registrars to verify the eligibility of voters identified by the Texas Department of Public Safety as noncitizens and remove ineligible voters from their rolls.

“Keeping the voter roll clean is the first part of integrity in the voting process,” Bettencourt said, adding his proposals are based on his experience as an election official.

The former Harris County Tax Assessor and Voter Registrar also filed Senate Bill 208—a companion to House Bill 25, filed by State Rep. Valoree Swanson (R–Spring)—which prohibits public officials from distributing unsolicited mail-in ballot applications.

Ahead of the presidential election, Harris County’s Democrat election chief tried to send mail-ballot applications to all 2.4 million registered voters in the county, regardless of whether they were eligible to vote by mail, but was stopped by the Texas Supreme Court.

“We didn’t need 2 million absentee ballots to set a record voter total in Harris County,” Bettencourt said.

Bettencourt is also a co-author of Senate Bill 7, one of this session’s major omnibus election reform bills. State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Mineola), chair of the State Affairs Committee that hears election-related bills in the upper chamber, filed SB 7 but was conducting a committee hearing in Austin and unable to attend Monday’s press conference.

Cain, who chairs the House Elections Committee, has filed another major omnibus bill: House Bill 6.

HB 6, the Election Integrity Protection Act of 2021, is one of several election reform bills introduced by Cain this session and includes a variety of provisions to increase transparency and uniformity. Cain said the House and Senate are working closely together on the priority issue.

“Elections—the bedrock of our republic—should be free, fair, and secure,” Cain said Monday. “But the main point of House Bill 6 is that we should have standardized and uniform elections, that the rules are the rules. It’s predictable. … That makes it fair.”

Cain’s HB 6 also strengthens prohibitions against organized mail-ballot harvesting and increases penalties for both paid vote harvesters and their customers—candidates and campaigns that pay for trafficked votes.

“We owe it to people in communities who can be easily taken advantage of,” Cain said.

Prosecutors from the Texas attorney general’s office testified before Cain’s committee earlier this month that 500 voter fraud cases are pending in court for criminal prosecution, and two-thirds of the charges relate to mail-in ballot fraud.

They said the number of charges per case has increased, with many cases including multiple bad actors or individuals who commit multiple criminal acts as part of organized mail-ballot harvesting schemes.

Abbott said he was uncertain how many Texas election outcomes had been altered by voter fraud, but added that any fraud that takes place “sows seeds of distrust in the election process.”

“Our objective in Texas is to ensure that every eligible voter gets to vote and that only eligible ballots are counted,” Abbott added.

Last Friday, March 12, was the bill-filing deadline. The last day of the regular legislative session is May 31.

Texans can contact their elected state official about election integrity and other issues.

Details about bills, along with other resources to help citizens participate in the legislative process, are available at Texas Legislature Online.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.