To that end, seven new bills were filed this week by a handful of Republican senators which include a proof-of-residency requirement, financial reprimand who fail to timely remove unqualified voters from the rolls, and uniformity amongst counties in early voting hours of operation.
Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) is joined by five joint authors — Sens. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown).
Bettencourt stated of the slate of bills, “The November 2020 election demonstrated the lack of transparency and lack of integrity within the election process.”
“The integrity of the voter roll is paramount to the entire electoral process and we must restore confidence in the voter roll for future elections for all Texans,” he added.
Purging the rolls of ineligible voters — whether by citizenship, having moved outside of Texas, or any other disqualifier — has landed the state in hot water previously. In 2019, the then-secretary of state, David Whitley, issued a list of nearly 100,000 voters who were deemed ineligible and were slated for removal from the rolls.
However, a substantial portion of the list was found to have been errantly flagged and were, in fact, eligible voters. But that still left thousands of voters who should not have been on the rolls.
A notable part of this legislative slate, Senate Bill (SB) 1114, is the requirement that county elections administrations regularly inspect their voter databases for accuracy. And because of the recent history, such an effort is bound to face accusations of “voter suppression.” But Republicans, as Bettencourt stated, maintain its importance in ensuring the integrity of elections.
Another of the bills, SB 1113, establishes a penalty for voter registrars who fail to uphold that command.
The third voter-specific legislation would require that voters show proof of residence. Such documents permitted by SB 1111 include a driver’s license, state-issued identification card, a concealed carry permit, an appraisal district document showing address, a utility bill, or an official tax document.
The other bills focus more on election operations. Texas has a bottom-up elections system with county administrators in charge of day-to-day operations while the Office of the Secretary of State maintains more of a guidance role.
Because of that, and the emergency powers derived from the Texas Disaster Act that were exercised by local governments, there were often examples of counties operating from different protocols.
But Texas’ election code specifically separates counties into two categories as it pertains to hours of operation. Those with a population of 100,000 or more, early voting occurred on each weekday for 12 hours during the early vote period. Meanwhile, counties with fewer than 100,000 could get an extension on hours of operation upon request by at least 15 registered voters of the county.
Instead, SB 1115 establishes uniform early voting hours as 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays during the first week of early voting; 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on weekdays during the last week of early voting; a 12-hour voting period on Saturdays; and a 5-hour window on Sundays.
When questions arise over the validity of a vote, there exists a ballot board in each county to adjudicate such issues. They analyze and match signatures on ballots to those in the respective voter files. If it clearly doesn’t match, the vote is tossed.
SB 1112 prohibits this practice from being suspended by a local official. In Pennsylvania, the secretary of state ordered that no absentee ballots be discarded through the signature matching protocol. This bill is a direct response to that occurrence.
Further on the operational side, SB 1110 aims to expedite legal challenges during the home stretch of the election. It’d require the appointment of a judge whose job it is, explicitly, to adjudicate legal questions within three hours before, and within one hour on, Election Day.
The final piece, SB 1116, of the election integrity slate is a requirement that election results on political subdivision’s website are no more than two clicks from the homepage.
“These ‘Integrity Seven’ bills will start a needed discussion to create uniformity to make sure the problems we faced in 2020 will not happen again,” Bettencourt concluded.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.