Texans are used to being No. 1, but a new scorecard of state election integrity laws ranks Texas sixth in the nation based on its practices for ensuring elections are fair, honest, and secure.

The Election Integrity Scorecard created by the conservative Heritage Foundation compares states’ election laws and regulations to best practices, giving states a picture of where and how they can improve.

Hans von Spakovsky, manager of Heritage’s Election Law Reform Initiative, explained the scorecard during an election protection panel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual conference in Austin.

“A perfect score would be 100. No state got 100,” von Spakovsky said.

He clarified it’s not an analysis of the 2020 election. “This is the status of the laws in every state that we think are important for honest elections as of a month ago.”

“This is not set in stone,” he added. “As states change their laws, we will change the scores.”

States are graded based on voting laws and procedures in 12 categories:

  • Voter roll accuracy;
  • Mail ballot management;
  • Voter ID implementation;
  • Vote harvesting limits;
  • Citizenship verification;
  • Election observer access;
  • Voter assistance safeguards;
  • Vote-counting security;
  • Election litigation;
  • Advance voter registration;
  • Automatic registration; and
  • Private funding of elections.

Texas scored 76 out of 100 points—despite fighting for months last year to pass sweeping election reform legislation intended to make elections more accurate and secure.

States ranked ahead of Texas include Georgia (with a high score of 83), Alabama (82), Tennessee (79), and Arkansas and Florida (tied at 78).

“Texas is doing a fairly good job, but there are still things that can be improved,” von Spakovsky said.

What can Texas and other states do to improve election processes so voters can be confident that results are fair and accurate?

Chuck DeVore, policy director for TPPF’s Election Protection Project, quizzed the panel, which also featured Texas Secretary of State John Scott and J. Christian Adams, president of election integrity law firm Public Interest Legal Foundation.

Voter Rolls

Maintaining accurate voter rolls is worth the most points on the Heritage scorecard. Texas earned 23 of 30 points.

State lawmakers passed a bill last year to keep voters from registering at commercial or “impossible” addresses like mailbox stores and vacant lots that don’t correspond to a residence—an area where Texas lost points. But leftist groups are suing to block the new law.

Duplicate voters and noncitizens getting registered (and voting) is also a big problem, according to Adams. Texas looks to be playing catch-up.

In December, Scott’s office released a progress report on its ongoing audit of the 2020 election.

A standard post-election review of voter rolls found nearly half a million duplicate voter registrations statewide; 449,362 duplicate records were removed from the statewide voter list. The state identified another 11,737 registrants as potential noncitizens; the report said 2,327 had been removed, but follow-up continues, so that number could increase.

The state has not yet reported if any of the ineligible registrants cast illegal votes.

Scott, who has focused on transparency since being appointed the state’s chief election official in October, said he hopes the completed 2020 audit and future audits conducted in accord with new laws passed last year will help restore voters’ confidence in the election process.

In three other registration-related categories, Texas lost 2 of 4 points under citizenship verification for failing to use the federal alien verification database to help identify noncitizens. Texas did earn all 6 points for requiring voters to register in advance, and for not automatically registering voters.

Mail Ballots

Managing mail-in ballots is the second-highest priority on the election integrity scorecard. Texas earned 16 out of 21 points.

Voting by mail is a key focus of election security measures because it’s more vulnerable to fraud and mistakes than in-person voting.

Adams said breaking down checks and balances on voting by mail was the top target of Democrats’ “lawfare” in 2020.

He said Democrat election lawyer Marc Elias coordinated lawsuits across the country to get safeguards knocked down through collusive settlements with like-minded officials.

Elias filed hundreds of lawsuits ahead of 2020 attacking state election laws, using COVID as an excuse to impose looser rules that Democrats sought well before the pandemic.

According to von Spakovsky, more lawsuits to change state election laws were filed ahead of the 2020 election than in all past years combined.

Texas fended off a dozen legal challenges to its voting laws in 2020, including several attempts to force universal voting by mail. Texas limits who can vote by mail and continues to fine-tune its process.

In a related category, Texas earned 3 of 4 points for its laws limiting mail ballot harvesting, also called vote trafficking—a practice that allows paid political operatives and other third parties to collect voters’ mail-in ballots.

Voter ID

Third on Heritage’s list of election integrity best practices is voter ID implementation. Texas scored 16 of 20 points.

The state received full credit for requiring an ID number on mail ballot applications, but election integrity advocates are disappointed the new requirement undermines the signature-matching verification process.

Texas lost points for allowing in-person voters to use an affidavit and non-photo identification to cast a regular ballot. A more secure approach used by some states is for affidavit voters to cast provisional ballots, so election officials can verify voters’ signatures (not available at the polls) before counting their votes.

Zuck Bucks

Adams said eliminating private funding of election offices is another key reform. Millions, mostly from social media mogul Mark Zuckerberg, disproportionally boosted Democrat turnout in 2020.

Texas lawmakers banned “Zuck Bucks” and most other outside cash in 2021. But the law still allows $1,000 donations to local elections administrators, earning the state 2 out of 3 points in that category.

Prosecuting Cheaters

As the Heritage scorecard notes, “even the best laws are not worth much if responsible officials do not enforce them rigorously. It is up to the citizens of each state to make sure that their elected and appointed public officials do just that.”

DeVore said any time you have the connection to power and money, you have an incentive to cheat.

Heritage maintains an election fraud database with a sampling of known prosecutions, which von Spakovsky said would be much bigger if prosecutors actually pursued fraud cases.

He said neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor local district attorneys are interested in prosecuting cheaters.

In Texas, a recent court decision challenged the state attorney general’s authority to independently prosecute voter fraud cases.

DeVore said that’s a problem because local DAs, who are elected, could be benefitting from the fraud.

In addition, Adams said local authorities often don’t know how to prosecute election fraud cases or are afraid of attacks by the left.

What’s Ahead

Panelists warned that Democrats in Congress are still trying to undermine state voting rules through federal legislation to impose “California-style” election laws on all states.

“They took their litigation tactics and put them into one big bill,” said von Spakovsky.

“There’s a lot of distrust by, currently, the Democrat Party saying that without these changes, there’s going to be voter suppression,” Scott said.

Scott said he worries distrust in the integrity of elections will discourage Texans from voting.

“What worries me most is that people will think their vote’s not going to count, so they just don’t go vote,” he said. “That is the essence of voter suppression.”

In addition to pushing laws for federalizing elections, Democrats are continuing their litigation strategy in Texas, filing multiple lawsuits challenging provisions of last year’s comprehensive election reform measure, Senate Bill 1.

“Election integrity is never something you’re done with,” DeVore concluded.

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.