It’s safe to say that no one—not the Republicans who appear to have lost the White House, nor the victorious Democrats who are still trying to explain away irregularities—is happy with the way the Nov. 3 election was conducted.
This has left friends and even families divided, with no end in sight.
In other words, the tensions at the Thanksgiving table threaten to dampen our Christmas cheer, as well. And that could lead to a whole New Year of distrust in one of our most important institutions—free and fair elections.
It’s important to note that no one is claiming any of the results in Texas were illegitimate. But whether or not an election would be overturned is not the only standard for evaluating whether the system is in need of reform.
This election has highlighted serious deficiencies that must be addressed to ensure that the fundamental rights of each and every voter are not violated—whether intentionally or not. Every illegal vote that makes it through cancels out the voice of a legal voter. Likewise, every legal vote that is wrongly recorded or lost robs the voter of their rights.
To ensure our political system maintains moral legitimacy, every citizen in Texas—Republican, Democrat, and Independent—should be concerned with election integrity, not just election results.
Texas lawmakers can restore our collective faith in the ballot box through the following steps:
First, require proof of citizenship at voter registration. It’s a relatively easy step that will prevent ineligible individuals from getting onto the voter rolls in the first place. The Texas system is so impaired that an investigation into Harris County found people who selected “no” when asked if they were a U.S. citizen were registered to vote anyway.
Second, clean up our voter rolls. Questions continue to undermine confidence because there are continued reports about dead voters, non-citizens casting ballots and other forms of voter fraud.
To ensure that only eligible voters are voting, lawmakers should require the Texas Secretary of State to perform a full audit of all county voter-registration lists every five years. Texans deserve to know that deceased and other ineligible voters are purged from the system on a regular, reliable basis.
And finally, standardize voting by mail. In November, some Texas county elections officials went rogue, changing the rules, changing them back, the changing them again—all in the middle of an important election.
The COVID-19 pandemic made it worse. Texas Democrats began insisting that simply being afraid of catching the coronavirus was a “disability” that would qualify millions of voters to vote by mail. This argument eventually failed, but it took weeks of litigation before the Texas Supreme Court ruled against it.
In Harris County, officials tried to send millions of absentee ballot applications to every voter on the rolls. The Texas Supreme Court put a stop to that, too, but the move had already served to stir further confusion and conflict.
Mail-in ballots are inherently less safe than voting in-person because they break the chain of custody between when someone votes and when the ballot is counted. Texas has better protections than most states because it limits mail-in voting eligibility to those who truly cannot make it to the polls.
But to eliminate any potential for confusion, lawmakers could move all absentee (mail-in) voting operations to the Texas Secretary of State’s office. That will solve the problem of local officials making it up as they go.
Texans are fortunate not to have serious challenges to the 2020 election results. But the problems that remain in our system continue to drive a crisis of confidence that undermines our faith in democracy and the legitimacy of our elected leaders.
Texas lawmakers can help restore that confidence by limiting avenues for confusion and fraud.