Election Bills Moving

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This week the Texas House Elections Committee held a hearing for the first time dealing with specific legislation.

Last week the committee heard invited testimony from ethics and election officials. According to Collin County’s election administrator, the aspect of our voting process most susceptible to fraud is mail-in ballots. More on this later.

This week seven bills were heard by the committee. None of the bills were “game-changers” but one bill, HB 933 by John Bucy (D-Austin) requiring counties to furnish information both to the secretary of state and on their county websites enjoyed notable bipartisan support.

Another arubuably more impactful bill by Bucy aimed at greater transparency faced a mixed reception. The bill (HB 1238) would require the secretary of state to post a database containing information about each officeholder or candidate for office across the state faced mixed a mixed reception. While this streamlining is music to some ears (including ours), the bill has issues.

Representatives including Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) balked at the $283,000 fiscal note attached to the bill and using state resources by defacto to promote candidates for local office. Middleton pledged to work with Bucy and other stakeholders to see if there is a way to accomplish this project without expending state resources.

While last week’s hearing featured no bills, interesting invited testimony was taken from the Texas Ethics Commission, Collin Conty’s election administrator and Chambers County Clerk.

The TEC’s general counsel testified that local candidate filings are maintained by local offices, not the TEC and that currently, there are no rules requiring local authorities to post online campaign finance filings. Representative Middleton pointed out that some municipalities, notably Galveston County, are headed the wrong direction in terms of disclosures having once provided filings online only to remove them and stop posting all together.

Chair Stephanie Klick (R-North Richland Hills) asked if the TEC filing system could be scaled so that local candidates could file in a centralized location at the state level. While this could be accomplished, it would require moving the current database to the cloud to scale. The TEC is currently redesigning its website after widespread usability critiques.

Posting of candidate financial reports and personal financial statements is an important issue that will build trust among voters in the transparent execution of elections and one Direct Action Texas supports.

Collin County’s election administrator Bruce Sherbet testified that his county is moving to a hybrid system in the next election and praised improvements being made to election administration.

Sherbet stressed the need to build voter confidence, chain of custody of machines, audits and transparent execution of elections.

While Sherbet is overall optimistic about the execution of elections, he testified there is still a problem with vote harvesters and that while we are making headway the way you are going to make real headway is by “making examples of and catching people doing wrong.” Stay tuned.

Additionally, harvesting is more likely to be an issue due to another line of questioning, the effect ending straight ticket voting will have on elections. Both election officials present last week testified they believed it would take longer to vote and that this change would lead to an expansion of the use of mail-in balloting.

Another issue highlighted by Sherbert was the need to refine the application process for annual mail balloting. Currently, voters are getting multiple applications and sending them to the registrar. Sherbert wants a standardized process and consensus that allows campaigns to check on applications that have been sent.

The four day period between early voting and election day, a point of interest among election administrators and integrity activists alike, were identified as crucial for ballot boards to do work on election administration, a task that would take multiple days after an election to complete by the state’s largest counties. Of course, the question arose why tabulations couldn’t run on a rolling basis throughout the election. The answer, it would be problematic when that information leaked, impacting or invalidating an election.

Heather Hawthorne Chambers County Clerk also testified. During her testimony, Hawthorne mentioned expanding the list of acceptable IDs for voting. When asked about what types of IDs should be added Hawthorne mentioned just one, College IDs. These IDs are not linked to addresses, are more easily forged than official government IDs and do not have expiration dates.

Read more about legislation being pushed to allow for college IDs to be used as voter IDs.

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