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What the Legislature did (& didn’t do) on Election Fraud

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In October 2016, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Attorney General Ken Paxton had launched the largest voter fraud investigation in Texas history in Tarrant County.

Accusations of mail-in ballot harvesting, the process of filling out other voters’ ballots for them, were rampant and the state stepped in.

In January 2017, Governor Greg Abbott went on Fox News to talk, in part, about voter fraud in Texas. He said he had prosecuted about 50 cases of voter fraud in Texas during his tenure as Attorney General.

Then in February, the national media picked up on a story of a Mexican national who was sentenced to 8 years in prison for voting illegally.

And Direct Action Texas, an election integrity and civil liberties organization led by activist Aaron Harris, has filed complaints with the Attorney General’s office alleging election code violations in Dallas, Hill, Tarrant, and Harrison Counties.

With all that in the background, the legislature was debating several bills to crackdown on unethical and illegal election practices.

First, lets look at what did pass.

HB 1735 codifies some existing election practices and requires election officers to swear an oath of objectivity. It also adds some penalties, including state jail felonies, for ballot harvesting. There is also a provision to make voting in both primaries in a single cycle a second degree felony.

HB 4034 requires the Secretary of State’s office to periodically check the state voter file and notify county voter registrars when duplicate entries are found. It also allows those county authorities to remove the duplicates after making an objective determination as to whether they are indeed duplicates.

Now what did not pass.

HB 2691 appeared to be nearing passage in the last days of session, but the clock ran out.

It required election judges be posted at nursing homes to protect the elderly from ballot harvesting schemes. The Senate version also tacked on provisions to require the Secretary of State to establish mobile locations for individuals to obtain voter identification.

SB 136 and House companions HB 1079, 3474, and 4000 would have required the Secretary of State to verify that each person registering to vote is a United States citizen. None of these bills ever made it out of committee in their respective chambers.

HB 521, which passed committee but was never assigned a date for debate by the House “Calendars Committee,” would have automatically removed any registered voter from the state file who admits to being a non-citizen.

HB 1462 would have required early voting locations to be fixed in one location, prohibiting the practice of “rolling polling” whereby officials could set up temporary voting booths at special events. It was cleared from committee but the Calendars Committee never put it on the House agenda.

SBs 405 and 1142 would have required automatic recounts when the number of ballots reported in a certain precinct differs from the number of voter signatures by at least 0.5%. They were never heard in committee.

SB 1125 and HB 4265 would have reduced the number of early voting days from 17 to 10. Neither bill was ever heard in committee.

SB 1144 would have required paper receipts for each voter to ensure the electronic machines don’t alter the ballot. It was never heard in committee.

Sen. Bob Hall had several election bills which never got a hearing in committee. The bills ranged from requiring automatic recounts when the number of ballots differed from the number of voters by 0.5%, to reducing the number of early voting days, to requiring paper receipts for voters to ensure their ballots hadn’t been altered by the machines. Those bill numbers are SB 405, 1142, and 1144.

SB 829 and HB 1711 dealt with requiring paper trails for electronic voting to ensure machines accurately report votes.

HBs 4131, 4133, 4134 would have increased penalties for election code violations and given the government more tools to prosecute.

While some of these bills are complex and run 30+ pages, some are short and sweet at a half page. But none of these would seem overly controversial.

In Texas, the first state to ban “Sanctuary Cities,” one might think legislation to remove non-citizens from the voting rolls would sail through to the Governor’s desk. But it died.

One might also think that requiring a paper trail to verify electronic records would see virtually zero difficulty passing the legislature. But it died too.

Stranger still is the fact that many of those bills died in Republican-chaired committees.

In the Senate, the Committee on State Affairs is chaired by Republican Sen. Joan Huffman. Her members are:

  • Sen. Bryan Hughes (R)

  • Sen. Brian Birdwell (R)

  • Sen. Brandon Creighton (R)

  • Sen. Craig Estes (R)

  • Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D)

  • Sen. Jane Nelson (R)

  • Sen. Charles Schwertner (R)

  • Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D)

In the House, the Committee on Elections is chaired by Republican Rep. Jodie Laubenberg. Her members are:

  • Rep. Celia Israel (D)

  • Rep. Rodney Anderson (R)

  • Rep. Pat Fallon (R)

  • Rep. Lyle Larson (R)

  • Rep. Ron Reynolds (D)

  • Rep. Valoree Swanson (R)

Also in the House, the Calendars Committee, which decides the House’s agenda, is chaired by Republican Rep. Todd Hunter. His members are:

  • Rep. Donna Howard (D)

  • Rep. Roberto R. Alonzo (D)

  • Rep. Trent Ashby (R)

  • Rep. Byron Cook (R)

  • Rep. Sarah Davis (R)

  • Rep. Charlie Geren (R)

  • Rep. Helen Giddings (D)

  • Rep. Kyle J. Kacal (R)

  • Rep. Ken King (R)

  • Rep. Linda Koop (R)

  • Rep. Poncho Nevárez (D)

  • Rep. Chris Paddie (R)

  • Rep. Dade Phelan (R)

  • Rep. Toni Rose (D)

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