88th LegislatureElections 2022IssuesSens. Bettencourt, Hughes File Bill to Create ‘Civil Administrative Review Process’ for Elections

Bettencourt called the bill “common-sense transparency legislation” that will bolster public trust in the administration of elections.
February 20, 2023
Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and Bryan Hughes (R-Tyler) filed a bill in the Texas Senate to set up a “civil administrative review process” for various officials in charge of elections, Bettencourt’s office announced Monday.

Senate Bill (SB) 1039 was filed with the Secretary of the Senate on Friday. However, the text of the bill was not yet available on the Legislature’s website as of the time of publication.

“SB 1039 is just common-sense transparency legislation that increases the public’s confidence in the election process as we can’t have anyone in an elections administration not answering questions from the public,” Bettencourt said in a news release.

“This bill lets the public ask questions and elected officials answer them just like what should be occurring to set up a civil discourse, just like it used to happen, and used to be the standard for best election practices.”

Bettencourt represents part of Harris County, which was the only county that did not turn in its election results to the Texas secretary of state within two days of the election.

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In the news release published Monday, the senator’s office claimed that 1,300 ballots were discovered in Williamson County after the votes had been canvassed. There were “thousands of election irregularities uncovered” after last year’s general election, according to the statement.

SB 1039 would give recourse to election judges, candidates, county chairs of political parties, state chairs of political parties, presiding judges, alternative presiding judges, and the heads of some political action committees who suspect “election irregularities.” After two questions and answers, SB 1039 would allow the complainant to go to the secretary of state and ask for an audit and the assignment of a “conservator” to take over that “election authority.”

Harris County was subject to a forensic audit of its 2020 election procedures. The audit found “serious breaches” including chain of custody problems and discrepancies in the provisional voting data provided by the county and what was recorded on its electronic devices.

“The Secretary of State’s Forensic Audit Division found 14 MBB’s (Mobile Ballot Boxes) with 184,999 votes that lacked chain of custody from the 2020 election,” Bettencourt said on Monday.

“In fact, several MBB serial numbers were not the same as the ones used at the polls. That audit led Secretary of State John Scott to release a letter to Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum to ensure this problem did not reoccur in the 2022 election. That’s what election audits are all about!”

Hughes is the chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the audit of the 2020 election in Harris County as random. In 2021, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office announced an election audit for the two most populated Republican counties and the two most populated Democratic counties. As part of election reform legislation, state lawmakers proscribed a second set of audits for randomly selected counties. We regret the error.

Update: A copy of SB 1039 provided by Bettencourt’s office can be found below.


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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."