House Elections Committee Holds Organizational Meeting

March 12, 2021

Legislative News

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On March 4, the House Elections Committee held an organizational hearing featuring invited testimony from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Secretary of State’s (SOS) Elections Division and the Office of the Attorney General.
 
Steven McCraw, Director of DPS, and Chief Deputy Sheri Gipson, Director of the Driver’s License Division, informed the committee that the agency is in compliance with an order issued by the U.S. District Court  for the Western District of Texas in August 2020 requiring the agency to allow a person to simultaneously register to vote while renewing their driver’s license or updating address information online.
 
Over the past two years, about 2 million people have registered to vote while renewing or updating their license information online. DPS transmits the data to the SOS daily to keep the statewide voter registration system updated.
 
Keith Ingram, Director of the Elections Division with the SOS, briefed the committee on the success of the 2020 presidential election, which had an unusually high voter turnout, particularly given the pandemic. To assist counties, the SOS developed an elections advisory group made up of about 30 county election officials who met every two weeks to discuss issues counties were experiencing while preparing for their elections. The SOS assisted where needed by providing webinars and issuing advisories.
 
The SOS also administered a federal cybersecurity assessment grant in which all 254 counties participated. The grant funded a cybersecurity assessment of security measures, software used to conduct elections, and storage of voting equipment. In addition, the SOS administered the federal CARES Act grant to provide resources to counties to ensure a safe and secure election during the pandemic.
 
There was discussion from some committee members with the SOS about the process to keep voter registration rolls accurate; implement a mail-in ballot tracking system; monitor for fraudulent applications for ballots-by-mail; keep up with the need for any additional security trainers; properly verify electronic signatures; and prevent vote harvesting.
 
Josh Reno, Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice, testified about current trends in election fraud cases. Presently, there are 500 pending cases in criminal courts, and two-thirds of the cases include indictments on mail-in ballot fraud – 400 of these cases were filed within the last 12 months. Since January, there are 302 open cases that are in the investigation process by the attorney general. 
 
A discussion arose as to whether the state statutes are adequate to criminalize organized vote harvesting and mail-in ballot fraud. The committee requested additional statistical data to further understand how widespread voting fraud is in Texas.

On March 11, the committee met and took testimony on four bills:  HB 22 by Rep. Valoree Swanson (R-Spring); HB 463 by Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano); HB 478 by Rep. Jessica González (D-Dallas); and, HB 1128 by Rep. Jacey Jetton (R-Richmond).  All bills with the exception of HB 463 were voted favorably from committee without amendments to the full House with the recommendation they pass.  The committee hearing may be viewed in its entirety here.
 
For more information on this article, contact Nanette Forbes.