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.

Those involved with election integrity in Texas all knew that SB9 was not just any bill. It was the anointed bill, the one that was supposed to rise to the top and sail through the legislature. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. 

SB9 was not perfect on its filing date of March 7th, but this is the case with most bills. It was improved with a committee substitute in the Senate State Affairs Committee and passed out of that committee on April 1st. At that point all were able to view the committee substitute online and it headed to the Senate floor. On April 15, the bill was heard, amended, and passed. The amendments were available online to the public and for the most part, they improved the bill. 

On April 29th, SB9 was given to the House Elections Committee. Even though end of session deadlines were quickly approaching, SB9 waited until May 15thto be heard in the House Elections Committee. The bill heard was a committee substitute that improved the language of the bill but removed the paper audit trail. The vote to pass it out of committee was taken on May 17th, only one day before the deadline. That meant that Calendars received it on May 19th, the deadline for a bill to make it onto a calendar.

There are several ways to “kill” a bill. One used quite often is running out the clock. This tactic gives legislators the ability to say they did what they could and blame the next step along the way for failure.  Do not be deceived. Between the filing date and after every step of the way, there was plenty of time for House members, especially committee chairmen, to make suggestions for improvement. The bill was not locked in a vault and kept from House members until April 29th. It was available online to the public for scrutiny throughout the process. Do not let anyone convince you otherwise. 

Paper Audit Trail

A paper audit trail does not mean 100% paper ballots. Do not be misled. Direct Action Texas does not advocate for a pure paper ballot system. We recognize that there are flaws with paper ballots. Instead we advocate for electronic voting systems that print a record of each vote that is then scanned and retained. 

Senate Bill 9 defined it as an “’auditable voting system’ [which] means a voting system that uses, creates, or displays a paper record that may be read and audited by the voter.” This type of system is commonly called a hybrid voting system. The voter selects his or her choices on an electronic voting device, typically a touch screen. When selection is complete, a record prints with the voter’s selection. The voter can inspect this selection to make sure all of the choices are correct. If so, the voter scans the paper record, the vote is counted, and the paper is dropped into a secure box. If not, the voter asks the judge to “spoil” the ballot and then casts another.

A paper audit trail is crucial to election integrity. Without it, recounts are impossible. Electronic votes cannot be recounted as there is nothing tangible to count. Ballots cast by mail can be recounted because they have to be paper, but they are a small percentage of the vote. How can anyone be sure of the true outcome? Some say paper ballots will make recounts cost more, but why spend anything on an electronic recount, the result of which is meaningless.

Harris County has been a fierce advocate against paper, claiming their ballot is far too long for a hybrid system. First of all, do we halt election integrity in Texas because one county has a long ballot? Secondly, the hybrid system does not print a record of the entire ballot. It prints one line per race with the name of the office and the selected candidate for that office beside it. That is only one row of text per office. Dozens of names are able to fit on each page and sheet size can be adjusted to accommodate. 

The other objection made by some is the cost of new voting machines. Ensuring fair and valid elections is a core function of government. It should be one of the top priorities of government. How many countless millions are wasted each year? Counties with older equipment ready for replacement should have already budgeted for new machines. Counties with newer equipment should be reimbursed by the state on a sliding scale. In fact, there were several bills filed in the 86thlegislature that would have done just that. Both Democrat and Republican legislators were working to obtain funding for new hybrid machines. This is one of the few places government should spend its money. Without election integrity, we have nothing.

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