Abbott, legislators discuss election integrity bills, calling out Harris County officials

By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt and state Rep. Briscoe Cain discussed legislative bills addressing election integrity at a Monday news conference in Houston.

In the past few weeks, Abbott had already expressed support for seven bills proposed by Bettencourt and has identified election integrity as an emergency legislative item to be taken up by the legislature.

“There’s really one thing that all of us can, and should, agree upon,” Abbott said. “And that is we must have trust and confidence in our elections. … And one way to do that is we must reduce the potential for voter fraud in our elections. The fact is that election fraud does occur,” referring to arrests made by Attorney General Ken Paxton related to voter fraud, and a case prosecuted by the former Obama administration in south Texas.

“The bottom line is this. Election fraud is far more than a legislative concept or a goal to be achieved. In the state of Texas, it is a constitutional obligation,” he said, citing Article 6, Section 4.

“Our objective in Texas is to ensure that every eligible voter gets to vote and that only eligible ballots are counted,” the governor said. “In the 2020 election, we witnessed actions throughout our state that could risk the integrity of our elections and enable voter fraud, which is why I made election integrity an emergency item this session.”

The integrity of the election process was questioned in 2020 in Harris County, he said when the former county clerk “attempted to send unsolicited mail-in ballot applications to millions of voters, many of whom would not be eligible to vote by mail. Election officials should be working to stop potential mail ballot fraud – not facilitate it.”

Bettencourt, R-Houston, who has already introduced seven election integrity measures, said, “We did not need to have $2 million in absentee ballot forms mailed out. That was decided by the Texas Supreme Court.” If these ballots had been mailed out, he argues, it would have created “voter chaos because voters who had never seen this before would have been thinking, ‘Yes, that’s what I should be able to do,’” when only some people can vote by mail.

Both Bettencourt and Cain emphasized that Texas should have uniform, standardized election procedures statewide. Different rules apply depending on where people live. The times and hours should be consistent to make the process fair, they argue.

“The idea that voter fraud is a myth has been disproven time and time again,” Cain said. “We owe it to people who live in communities that can easily be taken advantage of. The only form of voter suppression is when an illegitimate voter, an illegible voter, casts a ballot. When an ineligible voter casts their ballot, they’re actually silencing the voice of an American citizen.”

Cain, R–Deer Park, who chairs the House Elections Committee, introduced HB 6, which contains a range of provisions, including targeting paid mail-ballot harvesters.

Cain’s bill expands existing state law enacted in 2017 to make it a crime to accept or pay for “vote harvesting services.” The change will enable prosecutors to prosecute low-level campaign workers who are paid to bring in ballots as well as candidates and their campaigns that finance ballot harvesting operations.

State Sen. Brian Hughes, R–Mineola, who was unable to attend, proposed SB7 with 12 Republican cosponsors. Hughes, who chairs the Senate State Affairs Committee, proposed changes in several areas, including the regulation and oversight of voter registration and voter roll maintenance, voting by mail, polling location security and oversight, and added civil penalties for election code violations.

The bill requires counties to begin using “auditable voting systems” to produce a paper audit trail by 2026. It also permits the live streaming of video of the counting of votes in central count areas and prohibits “drive-thru” voting, which the Harris County Clerk’s Office implemented in the last election. The bill also limits private donations to county election administrators to $1,000, unless otherwise approved by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.

Rep. Phil King, R–Weatherford, who also was unable to attend, introduced HB 2283, which would ban all private funding of election offices after witnessing how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s personal donations through nonprofit organizations influenced elections in Democrat-controlled counties nationwide, including Dallas and Harris counties. King’s bill would prohibit local election officials from accepting contributions from private individuals, corporations, trusts, or other third parties and prohibit them from spending funds on elections that are not appropriated by local governments.

Private money being funneled through third-party organizations and then granted to local election administrators to increase the number of ballots in Democratic areas was “the single most important thing that happened” in the 2020 Election, J. Christian Adams, who heads the Public Interest Legal Foundation, said at a Texas Public Policy Foundation forum earlier this year.

“Private money funding elections should be banned,” Adams said. “It is the single most important election integrity measure you can enact.”

Zuckerberg paid roughly $400 million through organizations like the Center for Tech and Civic Life, including $250 million through COVID-19 Response grants to distribute to local election officials in Democratic-run cities and $50 million to the Center for Election Innovation and Research “to combat disinformation” about the 2020 election. In October, he gave another $100 million to CTCL, Reuters reported.

Of this money, Dallas County received $15 million, the largest grant awarded; Harris received $9.6 million.

Time Magazine referred to the effort as a “shadow campaign” organized by a “well-funded cabal of powerful people” that “got states to change voting systems and laws” and “helped secure hundreds of millions in public and private funding.”

Despite affidavits being filed in Harris County alleging voter fraud, and Paxton’s Office arresting alleged ballot harvesters earlier this year, MOVE Texas, a group created in 2013 to expand voter initiatives, maintains there were no widespread cases of voter fraud in Texas.

“Despite holding one of the safest and most secure elections in the state’s history in 2020 – thanks in no small part to expansions of vote-by-mail, early voting and secure ballot drop-boxes – Gov. Abbott is attempting to restrict these common-sense measures under the false premise of ‘election integrity,’” MOVE Texas spokesperson Charlie Bonner told KXAN News Houston. “Let’s be clear here: there are no widespread cases of voter fraud. That is a fact. Period.”

Texas Democrats say the governor is misleading voters and scheduled a news conference at 1:30 p.m. Monday to discuss election integrity.

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