Texas: Fixing ballot secrecy problems won’t be easy, experts say | Natalia Contreras/The Texas Tribune

When Pam Anderson was a county elections clerk in Colorado about a decade ago, she worried about whether the state’s increasingly transparent election process had made it possible to link a ballot to the voter who cast it. As a test, she asked her staff in Jefferson County to see whether they could find a ballot that she had cast in a previous election. It took them less than 20 minutes. Since then, Colorado has taken steps to protect a voter’s right to a secret ballot: Election officials there remove the voting method and polling location from public reports detailing voter participation. The state has invested in training election officials to redact information from the records it releases publicly, and purchased technology to help make those redactions more efficiently, Anderson said. Such measures could help point the way forward for Texas, where recent laws enacted in the name of increasing election transparency have made it possible — in limited instances — to use public records and data to determine how individual voters voted. Read Article

Texas: Voter advocacy groups ask DOJ to step in after Texas allowed some voters’ ballots to be identified | Natalia Contreras/Votebeat

A coalition of watchdog and voter advocacy groups asked the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday to use “all available legal authorities” to protect the secrecy of ballots after Votebeat and The Texas Tribune confirmed that the private choices some voters make in the voting booth can in some instances be identified using public, legally available records. The two news organizations reported on the limited ability to identify how some people vote after an independent news site published what it said was the image of the ballot a former state GOP chair cast in the March 5 Republican primary. The League of Women Voters of Texas, American Oversight, the Campaign Legal Center, and Southern Coalition for Social Justice cited the investigation by Votebeat and The Tribune that replicated a series of steps that could identify a specific person’s ballot choices using public records. The outlets did not detail the precise information or process needed to do so. The advocacy groups said the ability to identify how people vote could lead to voter intimidation. Read Article

Texas voters could be impacted if countywide voting ends | Natalie Contreras/The Texas Tribune

A long-running conservative push to get rid of countywide polling places is winning growing interest from state lawmakers, as well as a spot on the state Republican party’s list of legislative priorities for next year. But election officials are warning that if legislators scrap the state’s countywide voting program, they will struggle to pull off the changes that would be required — beginning with increasing their numbers of polling places. That means paying for hard-to-find additional locations, recruiting and paying workers to staff them, and obtaining more voting equipment. Election officials also worry that confused voters could be disenfranchised by the shift. Currently, 96 counties allow voters to cast ballots anywhere in their county on election day, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. The list includes counties in every part of the state, collectively encompassing roughly 14.9 million, or 83%, of the state’s registered voters. Read Article

Texas risked ballot secrecy in bid for election transparency | Natalia Contreras, Karen Brooks Harper and William Melhado/The Texas Tribune

Texas’ efforts to make elections more transparent allows the public — in limited instances — to pierce the anonymity of the ballot and find out how people voted, undermining the secrecy essential to free elections. The choices voters make in the private voting booth can later be identified in some cases using public, legally available records, a review by Votebeat and The Texas Tribune found. Since 2020, requests for such records have skyrocketed, fueled by unsubstantiated concerns about widespread voter fraud, and Texas lawmakers have supported changes to make election records easier to access soon after elections. County elections administrators, trying to fulfill activists’ demands for transparency, have also made information public that can make it easier to determine how specific people voted. Read Article

Texas: Texas election chiefs face pressure to get details right after judge orders new election in close race | Natalia Contreras/The Texas Tribune

A judge’s decision to order a new election in a close Harris County race from 2022 is putting election officials statewide on notice: Any type of error — large or small — has the potential to trigger a challenge and disqualify votes if the margins are narrow enough. Some of the problems that prompted the judge’s order occur frequently around the state, especially in high-turnout elections, election officials told Votebeat. With the prospect of election outcomes being negated because of paperwork errors, they said, there’s now added pressure to train election workers and strictly follow procedure. “We have been stressing the importance of paperwork needing to be filled out properly,” said Trudy Hancock, elections administrator in Brazos County. “We emphasize to our workers how important this is, that we get public records requests and that we’re already being questioned about why something wasn’t done properly. We’re telling our workers that people are looking at this.” Read Article

Texas: Gillespie County election costs balloon after switch to hand count | Natalia Contreras/The Texas Trinue

The hand count of thousands of Republican primary election ballots in Gillespie County is on track to cost taxpayers more than double the wage costs of the 2020 Republican primary, according to records obtained by Votebeat. Public records show Republicans employed 350 people to hand count, who collectively reported working more than 2,300 hours the day of the election at a rate of $12 per hour. That means more than $27,000 in wages. Those numbers aren’t final, and they’re likely to grow. The tally does not include hourly wages for election clerks who worked at each of the county’s 13 precincts on election day checking in voters and performing duties other than counting. In addition, Gillespie Republicans will also hand-count ballots in a runoff election at the end of the month, which will add to the costs. Read Article

Texas: Surprise bill, uncertain future prompts Smith County to switch voter registration system vendors | Blake Holland/KLTV

Smith County is facing uncertainty regarding its voter registration system after their current vendor, VOTEC, unexpectedly requested additional funds to stay afloat, prompting concerns about the integrity of the upcoming elections. Elections Administrator Michelle Allcon emphasized the importance of not jeopardizing election integrity and questioned the transparency of VOTEC’s actions. Despite the risks associated with transferring data to a new vendor, Smith County commissioners voted to contract with VR Systems, initiating the process of migrating voter registration data to the new system to ensure its accuracy and completeness before the November election. Read Article

Texas: With lawsuits and recount petitions rising, some elections seem to go on forever | Natalia Contreras/The Texas Tribune

It has been 15 months since Democrat DaSean Jones was sworn in as a Harris County criminal district court judge. He’s presided over hundreds of cases since then. And he’ll be on the ballot again in November, this time for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court. But there’s an asterisk on his 2022 election win: His opponent, Republican Tami Pierce, is still challenging the outcome in court, arguing that there were “improper or illegal votes that shouldn’t have been counted” and that the election was “plagued with mistakes.” Her case is awaiting a ruling from a Bexar County visiting judge. It’s another example of a pattern officials and experts say they’re seeing around Texas in recent years: elections that just won’t end. Read Article

Texas: In Brazos County, elections officials shoulder new costs and burdens to appease skeptics | Natalia Contreras/The Texas Tribune

In Brazos County, concerns over election integrity have surfaced, fueled by suspicions and demands from residents advocating for hand-counted ballots. Despite county leaders and election officials assuring the public of the accuracy of elections, calls for ditching voting equipment persist, echoing claims of fraud in the 2020 election. In response to demands, the county plans to introduce sequentially numbered ballots, a move projected to cost $14,000 for the November election. However, experts caution that such measures may not enhance security and could compromise ballot secrecy. Read Article

Texas: Voting company makes ‘coercive’ demand of counties: Pay up or lose service before election | Nicholas Riccardi/Associated Press

The owner of a voting company, VOTEC, admitted to issuing a “coercive” demand to 32 Texas counties, urging them to pay an additional 35% surcharge for their voting registration system software or risk losing it just ahead of the November elections. John Medcalf, the owner, cited past payment delays and financial struggles, characterizing the demand as a plea for financial stability to retain key employees. While the surcharges have prompted urgency among Texas counties to approve payments or seek alternatives, VOTEC assured that existing contracts would be honored until their expiration, with Texas’ Secretary of State’s office providing consultation on available options. Read Article

Texas: Tarrant County approves use of pre-numbered ballots. Do they prevent voter fraud? | Cody Copeland/Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The Tarrant County Election Board approved the use of pre-numbered ballots for the upcoming general election, aiming to enhance election security and facilitate auditing in case of voter fraud inquiries. However, experts argue that this practice could potentially enable voter fraud rather than prevent it, as it deviates from the longstanding principle of the secret ballot. Despite claims that pre-numbered ballots would bolster election integrity, concerns arise regarding the risks associated with tying votes to specific numbers, potentially enabling vote buying or coercion. The initiative, approved with one vote against it, raises questions about its necessity, especially considering the absence of significant voter fraud incidents in recent elections. Read Article

Texas counties face surcharge to aid voter registration software vendor | Natalia Contreras/Votebeat

A vendor of voter registration management software is asking Texas counties that use its services to pay tens of thousands of dollars in surcharges to help the company stay afloat, or scramble for alternative ways to deal with sensitive voter information in a presidential election year. The request has election administrators in some of the state’s largest counties consulting with county attorneys about their legal options. Others are trying to find the money to pay, worried about the stability of the vendor, California-based Votec Corp. Election officials have few other options to store and manage the voter registration data of millions of voters across the state only months ahead of the May runoff election and November’s presidential election. Read Article

Texas woman sentenced to five years over voting error acquitted | Sam Levine/The Guardian

A Texas appeals court has thrown out a five-year prison sentence for Crystal Mason, a Texas woman who was sentenced for trying to cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 presidential election that was rejected. Mason, now 49, attempted to vote in Fort Worth in the 2016 even though she was ineligible because she was still on supervised release – which is like probation – for a tax felony. She has always maintained she had no idea she was ineligible and only tried to cast a ballot because her mother urged her to. A judge convicted her in a 2018 trial that lasted just a few hours. Mason’s case became well known nationally and struck a chord as an example of an egregious punishment for a voting mistake. Many saw it as a thinly veiled effort to intimidate Black voters. Read Article

Texas county’s GOP officials declared hand count a success, but errors raise questions  | Natalia Contreras7Votebeat

After certifying the primary election results in Gillespie County, Republican Party Chairman Bruce Campbell discovered a discrepancy, prompting a scramble to rectify the error. Despite being a low-profile primary, Gillespie Republicans opted for a hand-counted ballot process, challenging machine tabulations over concerns about accuracy. However, errors arose during the count, requiring corrections in nearly every precinct, though no outcomes were affected. Despite assurances from Campbell, who spent a weekend reviewing tally sheets, experts warn that without an audit or recount, questions about the accuracy of the tallies persist, especially given the numerous errors found. Read Article

Texas: Gillespie County’s hand-counted Republican primary election results impossible to verify | Jessica Huseman/Votebeat

Republicans in Gillespie County, Texas, recently conducted a hand count of approximately 8,000 ballots from their primary election, with each ballot containing selections for over 30 races. The process, involving around 200 volunteers, lasted 21 hours, concluding at 5:12 a.m. Reporters from Votebeat noted several discrepancies and uncertainties regarding the accuracy and transparency of the hand count. While Republicans hailed the effort as a success, there are concerns about error rates, deviations from standard procedures, and the lack of oversight.  The lack of clarity surrounding the hand count raises questions about its credibility and transparency, with taxpayers ultimately covering the considerable expense of the endeavor. Read Article

Texas: ‘This was a circus’: Gillespie County GOP hand-counts ballots through the night for primary results | Natalia ContrerasandJessica Huseman/Votebeat

Despite initial expectations for a prompt return of results, the Gillespie County Republican Party’s decision to hand-count primary ballots resulted in an unexpected all-night endeavor, concluding at 4:30 a.m. The process, involving nearly 200 people and more than 8,000 ballots, ran contrary to expert advice citing its inefficiency and costliness compared to machine-based tabulation. While the party footed the immediate bill, Texas taxpayers are likely to cover most expenses through state reimbursements. Despite logistical challenges, some party members expressed enthusiasm for the traditional method, while others, including voters, found it unnecessary and antiquated, prompting questions about its future use and efficacy in the county. Read Article

Texas: “A hornet’s nest”: How the Gillespie County elections chief is doing his job amid ongoing conspiracy theories | Natalia Contreras/The Texas Tribune

Jim Riley, the elections administrator for Gillespie County, Texas, faced disappointment as a forum he organized to reassure the public about the integrity of local elections drew fewer attendees than expected, with some leaving prematurely. Riley, 76, has encountered resistance from local right-wing activists who want significant changes to the election process. Despite pressure to conform to their demands, Riley remains steadfast, asserting that hand-counting ballots won’t improve election integrity in Gillespie. His commitment is tested as he navigates the challenges of rebuilding trust and managing the demands of the job, while also contending with misinformation and a lack of support from some local officials. Read Article

Why certain Texas counties need more 2024 voting locations | Natalia Contreras/The Texas Tribune

Texas election officials, particularly in certain counties, are facing challenges meeting the requirements of a new Republican-backed election law ahead of the March 5 primary. This law mandates a significant increase in polling locations for counties using vote centers for countywide voting, posing financial and logistical issues. Some officials are concerned about the availability of funds to purchase additional equipment and pay rental fees for more locations, while others worry about finding enough election workers. In the most populous county, Harris County, the local Republican party is advocating for legislative changes due to unintended consequences, including the need for joint primaries. Read Article

Texas: Travis County GOP unable to secure resources for hand counting in primary election | Grace Reader/KXAN

The Travis County Republican Party in Texas was unable to secure the necessary resources to hand count early voting ballots in the March primary election, despite ongoing negotiations with the Travis County Democratic Party. Only Republican mail-in ballots will be hand-counted, while early voting ballots will not undergo the same process. The deadline for the GOP to gather volunteers and resources was December 31, and it was not met, according to County Clerk Dyana Limon-Mercado. Read Article

Texas Republicans want to hand count 2024 primary ballots. Experts say it’s “a recipe for disaster.” | Natalia Contreras/Votebeat

Gillespie County Republicans in Texas plan to conduct their primary election by hand-counting votes, a method criticized by experts as time-consuming, costly, less accurate, and less secure than using machines. Despite the risks of lawsuits, reprimands, and unnecessary expenses, the county’s GOP leaders have embraced this approach, recruiting and training volunteers to manually tally votes in dozens of races on over 3,000 expected ballots. The decision has raised concerns about the reliability and validity of the election outcome, potentially undermining confidence. Other counties, including Dallas and Travis, briefly considered hand-counting but rejected it due to logistical challenges and high costs. Read Article

Texas: Republican push for hand counting leads to uncertainty about Travis County’s 2024 primaries | Nina Hernandez/Austin Monitor

The Travis County Republican Party’s consideration of changes to the 2024 primary election, including hand counting of early vote totals and discontinuation of countywide vote centers, has led to concerns and a lack of agreement with the Travis County Democratic Party. The potential changes, driven by conservative activists, could impact voter convenience, increase costs, and create confusion. Read Article

Texas: Harris County’s 2023 election shows progress, work remains ahead of 2024 | Natalia Contreras/The Texas Tribune

Harris County recently faced criticism from a judge for violating state law in the way it calculated the allocation of ballot paper for each polling location, which contributed to shortages and chaos during the 2022 election. The judge upheld the election results but emphasized that the county’s election administration department failed to follow proper procedures in determining the paper supply needed. The law requires officials to calculate paper allocation based on previous comparable election turnout plus a 25% buffer. Harris County did not adhere to this and did not seek guidance from the secretary of state’s office. The judge’s ruling highlighted the need for better planning and adherence to election procedures to avoid similar issues in the future. The county’s newly appointed election chief, Teneshia Hudspeth, expressed commitment to building trust with voters and addressing the problems highlighted in the ruling as the county prepares for the 2024 presidential election. Read Article

Texas: Poll worker heart attack in Williamson County highlights poll watcher tensions | Natalia Contreras/Votebeat

A poll worker in Williamson County, Texas, initially had a heart attack while working at an early voting site. County officials initially blamed a voter fraud activist and poll watcher, Laura Pressley, for the incident, accusing her of causing the worker’s distress. However, after Pressley threatened legal action, Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell Jr. retracted the accusation and issued an apology. The incident highlights growing tensions between partisan poll watchers and election workers, escalating since the 2020 election, with baseless accusations and harassment making it difficult for election workers to do their jobs effectively. Pressley, a vocal opponent of electronic voting systems, has a history of suing counties and election officials over perceived violations of the Texas Election Code. She applied for the role of Williamson County elections administrator after the previous official’s resignation but was not selected. Read Article

Texas secretary of state releases Harris County 2022 election audit | Jess Huff/The Texas Tribune

A preliminary report from the Texas Secretary of State’s office highlights “multiple failures” in Harris County’s 2022 election administration, though it does not suggest any race outcomes were affected. The audit identified issues such as insufficient paper ballots at voting centers, discrepancies in voter registration records, and 3,600 unreported mail ballots. It also noted inadequate training for election workers. The report aims to address these problems before the 2024 election cycle. Harris County, the third most populous in the U.S., has faced legal challenges over its handling of the 2022 election, leading to legislative changes in election administration. Read Article

Texas: Kerr County voting machine fight brings chaos for election planning | Natalia Contreras/The Texas Tribune

In Kerr County the push for hand-counting ballots has led to significant disruptions in the local election administration, resulting in three different officials being responsible for running elections in the past two months. The effort, led by Republican County Commissioner Rich Paces, stems from baseless suspicions about the security of electronic voting equipment. This move has divided the overwhelmingly Republican county and will cost taxpayers around $250,000 due to the frequent changeovers. Reads Article

Texas: Loving County’s epic elections feud is back, and bitter as ever | Eric Dexheimer/Houston Chronicle’

Loving County, the least-populated county in the U.S., is grappling with a peculiar political issue: it has around 65 residents but about 110 registered voters. This discrepancy arises from former residents who, though having relocated elsewhere, still designate Loving County as their voting residence. Some maintain primary residences just beyond the county’s borders, while others reside hundreds of miles away. This situation has led to legal challenges, prompting questions about the legitimacy of their voting ties to the county, as Sheriff Chris Busse notes that many only appear during elections or the annual Christmas party. The article also highlights the intense personal and familial rivalries within the county’s politics, which have further complicated election matters. The recent November 2022 election resulted in three legal challenges, with candidates alleging that out-of-town voters favored powerful local families. The legal proceedings have become intricate, with lawyers scrutinizing voters’ personal lives, homes, and ties to the county, creating a complex web of allegiances and disputes. The judge presiding over the case is expected to make a decision by the end of October, with possible appeals looming. Read Article

Texas: ‘My Vote Was Rejected’: Trial Underway Over New Voting Law | Edgar Sandoval/The New York Times

A trial is underway in San Antonio, Texas, regarding the state’s controversial election overhaul known as S.B. 1, which was passed in 2021 by a Republican majority. The law introduced new voter identification requirements for mail-in voting, made it harder to use voter assisters, set criminal penalties for poll workers, and banned 24-hour voting and drive-through voting. Critics argue that the law disproportionately affects voters with disabilities, elderly voters, and those who do not speak English. The trial is providing an opportunity for affected voters to share their experiences. Read Article

Texas: What’s at stake in the long-awaited trial over sweeping 2021 elections law | Natalia Contreras/The Texas Tribune

The trial for the legal challenge against Texas Republicans’ voting and election law overhaul, known as Senate Bill 1, began in federal court in San Antonio. More than 20 state and national organizations have brought lawsuits against the law, claiming it violates federal laws including the Voting Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and constitutional amendments. The law, passed in 2021, faced criticism from Democrats who argued it was based on unfounded voter fraud claims. Plaintiffs argue that certain provisions of the law make it more difficult for voters of color to cast their ballots, with some alleging this effect was intentional. The trial is expected to last until late October, with a decision possibly coming months later. The case could potentially impact elections and voting in 2024, though appeals could prolong the process. Read Article

Texas law abolishing Harris County elections office goes into effect | Jen Rice/Houston Chronicle

Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett have assumed responsibility for running elections and voter registration following the implementation of a new Texas state law that abolished the elections administrator’s office in Harris County. Senate Bill 1750, which applies only to Harris County, eliminates the appointed elections administrator role and reverts the duties for overseeing elections to the county clerk and voter registration to the tax assessor-collector. A separate law, Senate Bill 1933, allows the state to remove elected officials if a “recurring pattern of problems” is not addressed. Critics argue that these changes are politically motivated and may hinder voter access. Read Article

Texas: Harris County Commissioners Court to hold public discussion on elections office transition ahead of November | Jen Rice/Houston Chronicle

Harris County Commissioners Court is preparing for a public discussion about a significant reorganization of elections administration duties ahead of the November election. The reorganization follows the implementation of a new state law that abolishes the Elections Administrator’s office and transfers the responsibility of running elections and voter registration to the Harris County Clerk and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector. Commissioners Court is also expected to vote on the distribution of elections office staff positions, with 131 positions going to the county clerk’s office and 39 positions to the tax assessor-collector’s office. This transition has been criticized for its lack of transparency, and it comes after a series of challenges and changes in election leadership within Harris County. Read Article