Just before Thursday’s abrupt end to the state’s latest lawmaking session, Texas senators approved an election measure many said is long overdue: setting a civil procedure for initiating county-level reviews of election irregularities that, if left unresolved, could trigger audits and corrective action by the state.
Senate Bill 97 by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) created a civil complaint procedure giving people involved in the election process a way to question local election officials about specific discrepancies, get a response addressing the problems, and then let the secretary of state’s office determine if there’s need for an audit.
“This bill will help ensure a path for continued improvement and an accurate voting process with results all Texans can trust and believe in,” Bettencourt said in a statement following the Senate’s vote on Thursday.
Lawmakers’ early adjournment of this year’s second special legislative session killed the bill for now, but Bettencourt suggested he’ll refile it in the future.
“This is not an ‘Arizona-style’ audit,” he said during discussion on the Senate floor. “It’s designed to get specific questions answered on specific irregularities.”
“There’s no way to ask the questions under current election code,” he added. “This opens civil administrative review of specific issues that doesn’t exist in the code right now.”
Under existing law, such reviews usually only happen as part of a criminal investigation or election contest.
Citizens can currently request election documents using the Texas Public Information Act. But as one witness testified at Wednesday’s public hearing on the bill, the TPIA doesn’t allow them to ask for “explanations” of what happened to cause documented discrepancies.
“If we know why they had the discrepancy, we can fix the problem in the future,” Bettencourt said. “What gets measured gets fixed.”
“This sets up a structure for the future,” he added.
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