A new ruling issued by the Texas Attorney General’s office reaffirms that government entities have a legal duty to redact personally identifying information on voters’ ballots and other election records when a Public Information Act request is made.

“In Texas, voters have an absolute constitutional right to ballot secrecy,” Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in a statement accompanying the ruling. “It is the duty of the counties to redact the pertinent information to maintain ballot secrecy as they have been repeatedly guided to do.”

Paxton noted that his office has “repeatedly advised governmental entities that any disclosure of election records that contain personally identifying information must be done in such a way as to preserve the privacy of a voter’s choices.”

He referred to past legal opinions on the subject issued in 2022 and 2024, as well as legislation enacted in 2023 that requires “redaction of any personally identifiable information of the voter contained on a ballot before making the voted ballot available for public inspection.”

Wednesday’s ruling was issued in response to an inquiry from the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office.

“Election records custodians must redact such personally identifiable information to protect the constitutional right to a secret ballot in Texas,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Justin H. Miller with the OAG’s Open Records Division.

“This requirement of secrecy is mandatory,” Miller wrote.

He added that the county must release the rest of the requested information.

On Thursday, the Texas Secretary of State’s office issued an emergency advisory to election officials offering new guidance on redacting ballots and other voting records to protect privacy.

“Recent events have highlighted how public information laws could impact a voter’s right to a secret ballot,” Director of Elections Christina Adkins wrote in the advisory.

Adkins was referring to the recent publication of ballot images purportedly belonging to specific voters. In certain instances, information obtained from publicly available election records can be used to match a ballot to a voter.

“It is imperative that we make every effort possible to provide protections to voters while balancing the public’s interest in transparent elections,” she added.

The advisory suggests possible redactions of information that could reveal private ballot choices, including the location at which a voter casts a ballot, precinct information on the ballot image, or polling place identifiers such as an electronic or pre-printed ballot number.

Adkins’ advisory also addresses the OAG’s ruling in response to Tarrant County.

In some instances, it would be next to impossible to produce a ballot image or cast vote record and protect a voter’s right to a secret ballot, including when a request is for a specific ballot or set of ballots or if a voter is the only person from their precinct or territory that voted in a given election.

Specific voters’ ballots may be easily identifiable in elections with few voters and low turnout. Countywide voting, which allows voters to cast ballots at any polling place within a county, makes identifying a specific voter’s ballot possible if a voter is the only one from their precinct that casts a ballot at a particular voting center on a specific date.

“In all circumstances, an election official must be sure to maintain the security and integrity of the ballots and the public’s right to review records, as well as the voter’s constitutional right to a secret ballot,” the advisory concluded.

“Every Texan has the right to a secret ballot, and that right must remain sacred. It is unacceptable for any voter to have their ballot choices publicized,” Secretary of State Jane Nelson said in a statement.

Nelson added that “parties who choose to publicize ballot information could face legal action under state and federal law if the release of information is tied to voter intimidation, bribery or coercion.”

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.