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Legislative Recap: Election Integrity

ERIC, Harris County Problems, and Felony Penalties Among Election Issues Addressed During Session

This is the first in a series of articles recapping legislation and issues addressed during the recently completed 88th Texas legislative session.

Coming off the passage of SB 1, the landmark election integrity bill passed during a special legislative session in 2021- and a quorum break by Democratic lawmakers who unsuccessfully sought to derail the bill- the security of Texas elections remained a priority for lawmakers during the 88th legislative session.

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Texas lawmakers passed a host of new election integrity bills during the recently completed regular legislative session on matters such as the controversial ERIC interstate voter registration crosscheck system, the restoration of the criminal offense of illegal voting to a felony, legislation to address the mismanagement of elections administration in Harris County, among others.

State Representative Reggie Smith, who serves as Chairman of the House Elections Committee, touted the work of the legislature on a host of various bills passed during the legislative session. Smith told The Texas Voice, “I am proud of the work that the Texas House of Representatives and the Elections Committee did this session. Together we passed key pieces of legislation that will strengthen the penalty for illegal voting, improve transparency in the election process, pave the way to ensure our voter rolls are up to date and accurate, and provide state oversight to address election issues seen in the 2022 cycle.

HB 246 creates a pilot program for recording ballot counting activity, HB 5180 will require counties to provide certain election records for public inspection, HB 2800 requires county election board meetings to be held in person and open to the public, HB 1217 standardizes early voting election hours across the state, HB 1848 requires the secretary of state to consider the feasibility of conforming each central counting station with the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIF) standards and, HB 1243 restores the penalty for illegally voting to a second degree felony. These vital House bills along with SB 545 (Kolkhorst), SB 924 (Springer), SB 1070 (Hughes), SB 1661 (Hughes), SB 1750(Bettencourt) and, SB 1933 (Bettencourt) will help strengthen the security of elections across the state and create more transparency in the process.”

Among the most notable election bills passed during the recent legislative session was SB 1070 by State Senator Bryan Hughes and sponsored by State Representative Jacey Jetton to address concerns about Texas’ participation in an interstate voter registration crosscheck program called the Electronic Registration Information Center (“ERIC”).

One of the most prominent supporters of SB 1070 was Toni Anne Dashiell, who serves as Republican National Committeewoman for Texas. Dashiell hosts weekly conference calls for conservative activists, which often feature Republican elected officials as guests, and SB 1070 was a frequent topic of conversation for Dashiell on her calls.

Regarding the passage of SB 1070, Dashiell told The Texas Voice, “Congratulations to Texas for all those who worked together in eliminating “ERIC”, which now improves the interstate cross check process. Texas will benefit from the “Alan Vera Memorial Bill” working to clean up our voter rolls. Many long hard hours went into the success of the bill. Thank you all!”

Lawmakers also restored the offense of illegal voting back to a felony with the passage of HB 1243 by State Representative Cole Hefner. In a tweet regarding this legislation, Hefner stated “One illegal vote is too many” and “Texas must send a strong message that illegal voting will NOT be tolerated in the Lone Star State.” HB 1243 was also identified as a “legislative priority” bill by the Republican Party of Texas.

The mismanagement of elections administration in Harris County also drew the attention of the legislature. Among reports of various instances of problems plaguing the Harris County Election Administrator’s Office, KHOU-TV reported that 119 voting locations in Harris County did not receive sufficient ballot paper during the 2022 general election. The problems faced during the 2022 general election in Harris County resulted in the filing of election contests by 21 Republican candidates, which are currently pending in State District Court.

SB 1750 by State Senator Paul Bettencourt and sponsored by State Representative Briscoe Cain, eliminates the position of Elections Administrator in Harris County and returns the functions of that office to the elected Harris County Clerk and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector. The office of Elections Administrator in Harris County is a relatively new creation, having been established in 2020. Both Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett are Democrats.

SB 1933 by Bettencourt and sponsored by State Representative Tom Oliverson, allows the Texas Secretary of State to administratively oversee elections in Harris County. Such administrative oversight would be able to occur after the Secretary of State’s office receipt of a complaint alleging a recurring pattern of problems with the administration of elections and a subsequent investigation to substantiate any such complaints.

These bills regarding Harris County elections have drawn the ire of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and other Democratic officeholders. In various tweets, Hidalgo has described the bills as “not just a murder plot against Harris County— it’s a murder-suicide plot against Texans”, “election subversion bills”, and “another step toward interference in the name of “election reform.”

At a press conference last week, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee announced that Harris County would sue to prevent the implementation of SB 1750 and SB 1933.

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