88th LegislatureStatewide NewsSenate State Affairs Committee Holds Hearings for Five Election Law Reform Bills

Five bills proposing various reforms to Texas election law have received public hearings in the Senate chamber.
March 13, 2023
The Texas Senate State Affairs Committee kicked off the week with hearings on a slate of election-related legislation, which drew several hours of public testimony on each bill.

Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) who chairs the committee, was the author of two of the five election law bills considered on Monday: Senate Bill (SB) 747 and SB 921.

SB 921 drew the most attention, seeking to clarify that ranked choice voting (RCV) is prohibited under Texas election law, as previous opinions by the Texas Attorney General and Secretary of State have found.

In laying out the legislation, Hughes described how numerous municipalities across Texas have used the election code’s ambiguous language to hold RCV-type elections, describing the process as “confusing” and “unfair,” arguing it can allow for instances in which someone who didn’t receive the majority of the votes cast wins.

In RCV, voters can rank different candidates in order of preference, allowing a candidate to win an election without being first choice of the majority of voters.

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RCV is a priority of the new national Forward Party, which counts former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang among its leaders. The party advocates change to the system in order to break up the two-party dominance in elections across the country.

Yang attended a Forward Party event in Houston last year where RCV was promoted as a priority for the Forward Party.

Hughes’ other bill before the committee, SB 747, was filed in response to several primary election runoffs where one of the two runoff candidates withdrew and the other was declared the winner.

If adopted, the bill would allow the next runner-up in the primary to be placed on the runoff ballot, allowing voters to have a choice in the runoff election.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) also had two bills before the committee, including SB 221, which establishes guidelines for home-rule cities holding referendum elections to ensure the language clearly communicates to the voters what the measure does.

Legislative analysis of the bill points to a recent situation in which the Texas Supreme Court had to intervene in a ballot proposition by the City of Austin, forcing the city to clarify its language.

Bettencourt’s bill would address this in part by requiring a ballot proposition to be approved by the Texas Secretary of State before they can move forward with the measure.

His other bill, SB 825, clarifies election code requirements for filing a recount petition after an election, pointing to a recent issue in a Harris County election.

The bill extends the time to file the petition by one day, and clarifies that the deadline cannot occur on a weekend or holiday.

Lastly, Sen. Drew Springer’s (R-Muenster) legislation, SB 1052, extends the amount of time that election judges may be paid for work performed before the polls open. Current law provides that they may only be paid for one hour of work preparing to open the polls; Spring contends there are numerous examples where judges have worked for multiple hours prior to polls opening to prepare the election site.

His bill would remedy this by extending the amount of eligible paid time from one hour before the polls open to two hours.

All five bills are presently pending final action from the committee before a vote is held to send them to the Senate floor.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify language about ranked choice voting.


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Matt Stringer

Matt Stringer is a reporter for The Texan who writes about all things government, politics, and public policy. He graduated from Odessa College with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Leadership. In his free time, you will find him in the great outdoors, usually in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend region of Southwest Texas.