Who oversees county election officials to make sure they’re doing their job correctly? No one, according to the state’s top election official.
Texas Secretary of State Elections Division Director Keith Ingram told lawmakers in a hearing last month that there is no state oversight of county voter registrars and confirmed that it’s up to the general public to hold their local election officials accountable.
Lawmakers questioned officials on the security of Texas elections, including the voter registration process, at a February 22 hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Election Security.
At the hearing, State Sen. Don Huffines (R–Dallas) asked Ingram if his office or any other state agency oversees county election officials to ensure they’re maintaining accurate voter rolls. The answer: “No.”
Both the National Voter Registration Act and state law require county election officials to maintain accurate voter registration lists. But there’s no state enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance.
“Voter registration in Texas is county-based,” Ingram explained. “The county voter registrar is in charge of their rolls. It’s their voters; it’s not ours. What they do with regard to an investigation … that’s up to them.”
“So, who is overseeing the county election folks to make sure they’re doing their job correctly and they’re following state statute?” Huffines asked Ingram. “Who’s overseeing that? Is it your department?”
“No, sir,” Ingram answered. “We don’t have any enforcement or investigative power. We are an assist and advise agency. We can see some indicators if something is going badly, and we can talk to them about it, but generally it’s going to be up to them to do the work.”
Huffines: “Is there any other agency or the AG’s office that oversees the county registrars?”
Ingram: “No. What happens is if a county is not doing an adequate job of working their matches and purging their voters, then they end up with more voters than they have people registered in the county and that’ll get the attention of groups like American Civil Rights Union, or Public Interest Legal Foundation, or Judicial Watch. They will get a notice letter and then potentially sue. There are counties being sued right now.”
Huffines: “So, it’s up to the general public to police their own voting system.”
Ingram: “To make sure that counties are doing their work with regard to voter registration, yes sir.”
There’s clear evidence some Texas counties are not doing their work to maintain clean voter rolls. The Texas Attorney General’s office reported last month that not only are non-citizens illegally registering and voting in Texas elections, but “the process for removing ineligible voters who self-report as non-citizens at jury duty is not being followed correctly, or even at all, in various counties.”
While no state agency has authority to force county registrars to follow the law, the NVRA gives private citizens the right to sue registrars who aren’t complying. That gives groups like the American Civil Rights Union and Public Interest Legal Foundation an accountability tool that Texas officials don’t have. And as Ingram testified, they are using it.
In 2016, the ACRU and PILF sued Starr County in federal court for violating the NVRA. The resulting discovery of ineligible felons, non-citizens, and even deceased voters registered and voting in the county sparked a voter fraud investigation that so far has netted seven arrests.
PILF, a public interest law firm dedicated entirely to election integrity, may soon be suing Bexar and Harris counties as well. Registrars in those two Texas counties are concealing public voter roll maintenance records, another violation of the NVRA.
“A core goal for PILF is to find new ways to cooperate with state and local officials to uphold the rule of law,” PILF spokesman Logan Churchwell told Texas Scorecard. “Our elections maintain integrity when we work together.”
Whether it’s non-citizens illegally registering and voting, or deceased and other ineligible voters not being removed from registration lists, dirty voter rolls create an opportunity for dirty elections. With no state oversight or enforcement authority over county voter registrars, it’s up to individual Texans and organizations concerned about election integrity to hold local officials accountable.
Watch the full committee hearing via the Texas Legislature Online website at https://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=44&clip_id=13172