Last night, The Texan obtained an advance copy of the House Committee substitute of Sen. Bryan Hughes’ (R-Mineola) Election Integrity Bill (SB 9). The text of the substitute removes provisions requiring a paper audit trail for all electronic voting machines used in future elections. The committee substitute is expected to be laid out at the House Elections committee hearing scheduled for this morning.
One month ago, the Texas Senate voted along party lines to pass SB 9 sending it to the House for consideration. Most of the changes to the election law included in the bill were recommended in the Interim Report by the Senate Select Committee on Election Security, including requiring a paper audit trail for electronic voting machines.
Republicans pushing the bill have said they are attempting to make needed changes to maintain and improve the integrity of the election process in Texas. The bill was a named a priority by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick earlier this legislative session.
With the committee substitute removal of the paper audit trail requirement came a flurry of activity from conservative grassroots activists calling for the paper audit trail to be put back into the bill.
Christine Welborn with Direct Action Texas said, “The most important piece of SB 9 that was eliminated was paper ballot 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.”
JoAnn Fleming’s Grassroots America sent out an email to their subscribers encouraging them to testify at the committee hearing, and to call the committee members regarding paper ballot backups.
Meanwhile, the changes do not address many of the concerns previously voiced by opponents of the bill including the Texas Democratic Party, and the Texas Civil Rights Project.
SB 9 includes provisions that increase penalties for election-related crimes, including voter coercion or undue influence, making many offenses state jail felonies. It also would make impeding access to a polling location by blocking a walkway, sidewalk, parking lot or roadway a Class B misdemeanor.
Additionally, the bill would require a person who assists three or more voters with transportation to the polling place to complete and sign a form, that includes their name and address, affirming the voters transported are physically unable to enter the polling place without assistance.
A form would also be required for any person who provides assistance to a voter in marking their ballot. That form would require the manner of assistance required, the reason assistance is necessary, and the relationship of the assistant to the voter.
Opponents of the bill have alleged that, if passed, SB 9 would make voting “more difficult, confusing, and scary for voters because [it] threatens voters with jail time over simple mistakes.”
In a statement, Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, issued a direct accusation that Republicans are attempting to rig elections saying, “Republicans know that the only way they win elections is to rig elections by gerrymandering maps and making voting harder for certain people. Senate Bill 9 is another Republican attempt to scare everyday Texans into not exercising their right to vote.”
The Criminal Justice Impact Statement on the bill prepared by the Legislative Budget Board indicates that in fiscal year 2018, “fewer than ten people were arrested, placed under felony community supervision, or admitted into state correctional institutions for the offenses for which changes are proposed” and concluded that the increase in penalties for election-related crimes would “not result in a significant impact on state correctional populations or on the demand for state correctional resources.”
Update: The House Committee on Elections met this morning and laid the bill out with the substitute. The paper audit language was removed from the legislation.
Katie Fisher is a licensed attorney and writer with a broad range of political, private sector, and ministry experience. A California transplant, Katie earned her J.D. at the age of 21 from Oak Brook College of Law, subsequently passing the bar exam and going into private law practice. Texas became home when she moved to Houston to serve as the Deputy Director of Delegate Operations for the 2016 Cruz for President campaign. She currently resides in the Austin area with her husband and daughter.