Election Integrity

Small Towns, Big Loopholes: Joshua’s Mayoral Election

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Citizens of Joshua are facing a locked door and a lack of confidence in the integrity of their November 23rd Mayoral Special Election. Could the current administration of Joshua use gray areas and loopholes in the code to steal a hotly contested election? That is the question many are asking in Joshua right now.

A Brief History

Earlier this year Kenny Robinson defeated 3-term Mayor Joe Hollarn. The Citizens of Joshua wanted a change. Then, after less than three months in office, Mayor Robinson resigned.

Robinson stated in a letter addressed to city officials and the Joshua City Council that the “wants of the city manager and members of the city council are at a difference.” He further stated that “The stress from the differences has caused me health issues. After discussion with my wife and family, it is with a heavy heart and much praying I have decided to resign as mayor of Joshua effective immediately.”

The conflict in Joshua is one that is common in small-town Texas today, economic development. The big question is should Joshua retain its country living feel or focus on growth into a larger city. Those that supported Kenny Robinson don’t want Joshua to become another Frisco. 

Special Election

The candidates vying to fill the vacant seat are formerly ousted Joe Hollarn and Robert Fleming. Hollarn is once again backed by those that want to push for growth and Fleming’s supporters are largely the same as those that backed Robinson. Hollarn’s advantage is the backing of the City Manager and City Council, especially since that City Council appointed City Manager Josh Jones to administer the election and serve as Election Judge for the City’s single precinct.  

The previous Mayoral Election was administered by City Secretary Lisa Cabrera.  She did not administer the November elections as she was terminated by the City Council in October. Her termination came after Mayor Robinson vacated his office and not long before the election of his replacement. The Council remains tight-lipped on the cause for her termination. The City Secretary vacancy appears to have paved the way to appoint the City Manager. The City Council held a Special Council Meeting November 14th to appoint City Manager Jones to the Early Voting Clerk position (election administrator) for the November 23rd election as well as ratifying his actions as Early Voting Clerk for the November 5thelection. This action was clearly after the fact, but the Secretary of State tends to look the other way when cities make “mistakes” like this.

While this appointment is legal, many citizens of Joshua feel the fox is guarding the henhouse. This sentiment is further aggravated by the polling location’s locked door.

There is only one voting location and it is inside City Hall behind a closed, locked, door that requires a code for entry. When a voter enters City Hall, the City Manager is paged, he enters the room from an interior door, lets the voter in, and processes the voter. If the City Manager is not available, the Assistant City Manager/Election Clerk processes the voter. This process makes some voters uneasy.

The City may argue that this is the best procedure to both keep the ballots safe and save money for the city. However, there have been reports of voters showing up to the polling location, finding the locked door and no one at the reception desk, and leaving without voting. This is very problematic. How many voters’ votes were suppressed by this setup? This election could be determined by a handful of votes, so every vote does matter. Hopefully, those voters will return on Election Day, but they may not. 

The City of Joshua did not contract with Johnson County for this election so the voters cannot turn to the County for assistance. They must instead appeal to the Secretary of State (SoS).  The SoS can bring in State Inspectors to oversee the administration of the election and ensure its integrity. Candidate Robert Fleming has made those appeals if only to reassure the citizens of Joshua. However, as of the posting of this article, calls to the SoS have not been returned. 

Lost Opportunity

Over a dozen bills were filed in the Texas Legislature in the 86th session that dealt with uniform election dates. Uniform election dates would demand that City and ISD elections be held on the same dates as County and State Elections. This would be a huge step toward ensuring that cities and school districts would contract with the County for their elections. Ultimately contracting with the County adds an extra layer of oversight and impartiality to the election.

Unfortunately, all of these bills failed along with most of the other legislation that would have improved election integrity in Texas. We must now wait until the next session in 2021 to help cities like Joshua.

Election Integrity Fact vs. Fiction

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Over three months after the end of the 86thLegislative Session, myths and deceptive talking points still fill the narrative on the fate of election integrity. The truth is that Texas elections remain highly vulnerable and that the vast majority of legislation aimed at combating fraud failed to make it through the legislature. 

Senate Bill 9

Senate Bill 9 (SB9) by Senator Bryan Hughes was the omnibus bill that was to carry many of the needed reforms to prevent and prosecute election fraud. It would have increased criminal penalties for election fraud as well as adding civil penalties. The bill increased restrictions on illegal assistance and added limitations on countywide polling. Election code language about poll watchers and signature verification committees would have been improved. Verification of election accuracy would have been enhanced with new criteria for automatic recounts and by implementing risk limiting audits. It closed loopholes in the registration process and eliminated barriers for interstate cross check. Finally, it would have required a paper trail for every cast ballot.

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Paper Backups Backed by Congress?

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Yesterday, Congressman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. held a town hall in Fort Worth in which he addressed several election integrity issues, and specifically the implementation of paper ballot backups.

Election integrity was, in fact, the first question put to the Congressman by an audience member. Burgess, representing Denton and Tarrant County, congratulated Denton County on purchasing a voting system based on paper ballots. He acknowledged that purely electronic voting systems are problematic. Gesturing to Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley who had just introduced Burgess, the congressman suggested the audience member encourage Whitley to implement paper ballot backups in Tarrant as well.

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Last Chance for Election Integrity!

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The 86th Texas Legislature has gone from over 400 election bills to just one last chance for true reform and that bill, Senate Bill 9 by Hughes, is in danger. Some portions of the bill have been strengthened by a committee substitute, but other crucial portions of the bill have been removed. SB 9 needs your help and your testimony on Wednesday, May 15th at 8:00 am. Below is your brief guide to the bill.

What’s Still Included:

SB 9 is an omnibus bill, covering numerous aspects of the Election Code. It includes increased penalties for election fraud as well as civil penalties for organized election fraud. This allows the Office of the Attorney General to increase its ability to go after the bigger fish in harvesting operations. It allows the closer tracking of potential harvesters by requiring a form to be filled out by individuals assisting voters. SB 9 also cracks down on potential illegal activity involving curbside voting.

The bill has several sections on cleaning up the processes involved in voting. It clearly defines the procedures for opening and closing the polls, ensuring accountability. It limits electronic devices around the central counting procedures as well as cleaning up the language concerning the signature verification committees and watchers. Countywide polling is also addressed by SB 9, limiting the reduction of polling locations and governing their placement.

In the event that the results of an election are in doubt, SB 9 provides solutions that are clearer than the present code. It defines the parameters of election contests, sets requirements for automatic recounts, and establishes risk-limiting audit procedures.

In addressing the voter rolls, it places restrictions on prefilled voter registration cards and eliminates barriers for the interstate cross check systems.

What’s Missing:

The committee substitute removed language that would address a growing issue involving mail-in ballots, false disability claims. Harvesters are marking voters who wouldn’t otherwise qualify to vote by mail as disabled. SB 9 would have added language to the application, clearly defining what disability means in the context of voting. It would have required something similar for in-person voting, but that provision was removed as well. Assistants would have been required to note the type of assistance he or she provided and why the assistance was needed. 

The most important piece of SB 9 that was eliminated was paper ballot backups. Direct Action Texas has been broadcasting the need for paper ballot backups since before this session began. No piece of this legislation is more important than paper backups. With the current electronic systems, there is no way to truly ensure the integrity of an election. In a recount, there is nothing to recount. There is no actual record of votes.

We must have paper. However, we need more than just paper. We need hybrid systems. Hybrids offer an electronic count that must match the number of paper ballots. Those two counts must then match the number of voters checked in. Each paper ballot must have a serial number, preventing ballot box stuffing. Without all of these elements working together the door is wide open for fraud.

Paper ballot backups passed in the Senate. They are not lost yet in the House. A Representative can take a stand for election integrity and add them back in as a floor amendment. They can also be restored in Conference Committee. However it happens, this crucial portion of the legislation must return!

If you plan to testify in Austin on Wednesday, please email us at info@directactiontx.com for more details.

Grassroots Coalition Letter on Secretary of State

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Today, conservatives from across the state are calling on Governor Greg Abbott to ensure his appointee to the position of Secretary of State is a proactive leader on election integrity.

In a letter delivered to Governor Greg Abbott’s office this morning, grassroots leaders have laid out several actions the incoming SoS can take to protect elections from known weaknesses.

This past Monday, Abbott named his Deputy Chief of Staff David Whitley to replace outgoing Rolando Pablos.

We look forward to learning more about Mr. Whitley in the coming days ahead of his nomination hearing and working with him to ensure necessary steps are being taken to combat election fraud in Texas.

The letter, included in its entirety below, was signed by over 136 political leaders across the state.

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