Election integrity is a top priority for the Texas Legislature this year, but it’s Florida’s governor who has taken the lead on proposing measures to safeguard elections. Will Texas follow?
On February 1, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott named election integrity an emergency priority for the 87th Legislative Session, meaning bills addressing the issue can be fast-tracked.
But more than a month later, Abbott has yet to endorse any specific election reforms for Texas, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed legislation to strengthen his state’s election integrity—already considered some of the strongest in the nation after two decades of reform in the wake of the 2000 presidential recount.
On February 19, DeSantis identified 10 specific election reform measures in three categories: ballot integrity, transparency in the elections process, and transparency in elections reporting:
Today, we are taking action to ensure that Florida remains a leader on key issues regarding our electoral process, such as ballot integrity, public access to election information, transparency of election reporting and more. By strengthening these election integrity protections, we will ensure that our elections remain secure and transparent, and that Florida’s electoral process remains a blueprint for other states to follow.
Election integrity organization Direct Action Texas reviewed several of DeSantis’ proposals to determine if Gov. Abbott and the Texas lawmakers should back similar measures, focusing on mail-ballot integrity reforms.
“Mail-in balloting is the least secure method of voting,” DAT wrote. “If we are serious about ensuring all citizens’ rights to vote and for everyone to have faith in the outcome, we should increase in-person participation, and lower/eliminate mail-in voting.”
Mail-Ballot Drop Boxes
Texas doesn’t use mail-ballot drop boxes, and DAT says it should stay that way:
During the 2020 election, Texas narrowly avoided the abuse of mail-in ballot drop-offs after a poorly crafted executive order allowed bad actors administering elections, namely in Harris and Travis counties, to collect and count mail-in ballots before early voting even began.
Returning voted ballots through the mail (as the mail-in name implies) should be the method of voting such ballots.
Texas passed legislation to combat ballot harvesting in 2017, but DAT says lawmakers could do more to limit the practice, including “allowing civil cases to be brought against suspected vote harvesters and increasing the penalties for engaging in this illegal behavior.”
Unsolicited Mail Ballots
Texas also doesn’t send voters unsolicited mail-in ballots, though it took a lawsuit to keep Harris County’s Democrat-led elections office from trying it. Democrats have filed several bills to implement this practice, while Republicans have introduced legislation to explicitly prohibit it—a move DAT supports.
Annual Mail-Ballot Requests
DAT says Texas should do away with annual applications for mail-in ballots, as they increase the likelihood of ballot harvesting between elections, especially in special elections.
Mail-Ballot Signature Matches
Texas currently requires election officials to match signatures on mail-in ballots to verify voters’ identities, but DAT suggests lawmakers could increase mail-ballot security by adopting a voter ID requirement, such as one working its way through Georgia’s legislature.
If the state maintains its current process, a pending federal lawsuit could force Texas to implement new procedures written by the court, allowing voters more time to fix signature mismatches.
Transparency: Private Funding of Election Offices
Texas, Florida, and Georgia are among states seeking to ban private third-party funding of government election offices, which one expert called “the single most important election integrity measure” state lawmakers can enact. At least $400 million in grant money from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was funneled through left-wing nonprofits to select local election administrators, who used the cash for targeted get-out-the-vote initiatives and other expenses.
“The way forward for election integrity is transparency and systems that lower the chance for error and malfeasance,” DAT concluded. “Taking a session off is not an option when it comes to safeguarding elections.”
Last year, the Texas GOP and conservative grassroots activists set election integrity as a top legislative priority.
Interest in securing the vote intensified during 2020, as election officials across the country used fears about the Chinese coronavirus as an excuse to loosen voting rules, and controversies surrounding November’s election results heightened Texans’ concerns about voting security.
Lawmakers have already introduced dozens of election reform bills, though the Senate’s priority election integrity legislation, Senate Bill 7, had not been filed as of March 3. The bill-filing deadline is March 12.
“My hope is that the Lone Star State will be an example of election integrity that other states will follow,” State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park), chairman of the House Elections Committee, wrote in a commentary this week.
The Elections Committee will hold its first meeting on Thursday—seven weeks into the 20-week session—but will not consider any bills at that time.
As of March 3, 58 bills had been referred to the Elections Committee; 12 are Republican-authored.
Texans can weigh in on election integrity issues by contacting their state lawmakers, who are in regular session now through May 31.
Details about bills, along with other resources to help citizens participate in the legislative process, are available at Texas Legislature Online.