From 2012 to 2020, mail-in ballot use in Texas grew from 204,000 to about 1 million, a quintupling of mailed votes. This suggests Texas is moving from an excuse-required to vote by mail state to a de facto vote-by-mail state, all without a change in the state’s election code.
Why does this matter? Because voting by mail isn’t as secure as voting in person. As a result, it’s the preferred method by those who seek to steal elections through fraud.
My recent paper, “The Role of Voter List Maintenance and Voter Identification in Election Integrity” details how fraudulent vote-by-mail schemes exploit weaknesses in our election system.
In response to a Public Information Act request, the Office of the Attorney General of Texas (AG) reported on 140 successful prosecutions for election fraud from 2005 to 2020. These cases averaged a little more than six per year for the ten years through 2014. As the Legislature strengthened election integrity laws in 2017 and as the AG’s office applied more resources towards combatting election fraud, the election fraud conviction rate almost doubled to 11 per year from 2015 to 2019. 2020 saw 18 convictions for election fraud.
Of the 140 convictions through 2020, just more than half, 72, involved mail-in ballot fraud—making it by far the most commonly prosecuted form of election related criminal activity.
The second-most common violation of election law with 28 convictions was for people illegally voting for an office for which they were ineligible to vote because they didn’t live in the district. There were 12 felons convicted of voting illegally. In addition, there were nine instances of impersonating a voter at the polls including two by non-citizens.
These resolved cases involved 531 counts prosecuted, of which 307 were for mail ballot fraud, or 58% of the offenses.
The Texas AG’s office also reported that there are 508 counts of election fraud pending with the majority of these being for trafficking in mail-in ballots, with many of those cases arising out of assisted living centers.
In the face of this long and accelerating record of election fraud convictions, former state representative and current Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted out, “We don’t have voter fraud in Texas…”—this, as the Texas legislature considers dozens of bills to strengthen election integrity.
Well more than 300 bills relating to elections have been introduced in Texas’s 2021 legislative session. Most of them would weaken election integrity by lowering voter identification requirements, breaking chain-of-custody safeguards, and making it easier to register to vote without proving citizenship.
A few key bills would improve election integrity, with the two most consequential ones being House Bill 6 by Rep. Briscoe Cain, Chairman of the House Elections Committee, and Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, Chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee.
HB 6 and SB 7 are not identical, but they share some key provisions.
Notable reforms in HB 6 include provisions for improving the maintenance of voter lists by removing deceased voters, defining election watchers, defining and improving security practices on ballot chain-of-custody, strengthening the safety of mail-in ballots by discouraging improper pressure in the guise of “assistance,” better defining illegal ballot trafficking activities by third party organizations, strengthening penalties for election fraud, prohibiting elections officials from sending out unrequested vote-by-mail applications and mail-in ballots, and creating a pathway to investigate election fraud that doesn’t rely on a county district attorney so as to bypass a conflict of interest. HB 6 doesn’t feature a better definition of disability eligibility for voting by mail nor does it have language on voter ID, citizenship or signature verification for mail-in ballots.
Some of SB 7’s key amendments to the election code include requiring an affirmative statement by a voter requesting a mail-in ballot due to a disability that they are “…physically unable to enter a polling place without needing personal assistance or injuring my health” accompanied by documentation of that disability, a system to track mail-in ballots combined with a requirement for additional ID that brings in-person voting safeguards to voting by mail, enhanced electronic voting machine fail-safes, a prohibition on private donations in excess of $1,000 to underwrite election administration, and increased civil penalties for violations of election law.
Other elections related bills worthy of support—some of which are redundant to provisions in HB 6 or SB 7—include: HB 25 (Rep. Valoree Swanson) and SB 208 (Sen. Paul Bettencourt) which would ban unsolicited early voting ballot applications by any official, HB 329 (Rep. Briscoe Cain) to prevent noncitizens from registering to vote, HB 330 (Rep. Briscoe Cain) to increase penalties for people registering to vote at an address at which they don’t actually live, HB 574 (Rep. Greg Bonnen) that criminalizes the intentional miscounting of votes—by extension, this would include any tampering of election counting machinery to do the same, HB 611 (Rep. Valoree Swanson) increasing safeguards against improperly pressuring voters, HB 1026 (Rep. Mayes Middleton) that would designate the Secretary of State as voter registrar, who would then maintain voter lists, and determine citizenship and eligibility to vote in place of the counties, SB 1235 (Sen. Bryan Hughes) to improve the verification of citizenship for eligibility to vote, SB 1114 (Senators Bettencourt, Birdwell, Creighton, Hall, Kolkhorst, and Schwertner) regarding citizenship verification, and SB 1340 (Sen. Dawn Buckingham) to reduce the number of ineligible people on the voter lists.
The passage of these commonsense measures and other related bills recently introduced will go a long way towards securing free and fair elections in Texas.