The Senate Committee on State Affairs met on October 4 to take up SB 47 (Bettencourt) and SB 9 (Hughes). While the Committee was recessed, SB 10 (Hughes) was added to the agenda. All bills were voted out at the end of the hearing.

This report is intended to give you an overview and highlight of the discussions on the various topics taken up. It is not a verbatim transcript of the discussions but is based upon what was audible or understandable to the observer and the desire to get details out as quickly as possible with few errors or omissions.

 

SB 47 (Bettencourt) Relating to processes to address election irregularities; providing a civil penalty.

  • Bettencourt – About asking questions and getting answers, sets up civil tiered system to be able to ask questions of County Clerk or Elections Administrator
  • Can be as simple as having more voters than registered voters, or like the problem in Harris County
  • In Harris County had a discrepancy that was building up in early vote by mail-in and in-person, led to a vote difference of 1,884 votes that was never resolved by County Clerk, Secretary of State reviewed it and couldn’t say
  • AG Paxton noted there were over 500 voting fraud offenses and 500 pending, bill sets up important process to ask a question and get an answer within 20 days, if you don’t like that answer you ask again
  • Sets up process for audit if there are continual issues, though it takes several steps to get to that level
  • $500/day penalty for noncompliance
  • Hall – Both agree that one of the biggest problem with elections is declining confidence in outcome of the election, will lead to voter apathy; need increased confidence
  • Hall – Suggests adding layer of oversight by forming Joint House & Senate Committee that will review plans and steps along the way
    • Bettencourt – Bill contains the $500/day penalty assessed by SoS, SoS will maintain a record of this
  • Hall – There have been audits conducted and various things said about them, have heard criticisms about audits was that they weren’t done correctly to get the right answer
    • Bettencourt – Exactly right that we need to increase confidence, Harris error was 4 digits for those who voted drive thru from 6am to 10pm
  • Lucio – Creates a system to check on errors and conduct audits, should define irregularities in legislative intent
  • Lucio – $500/day fine would be assessed against county?
    • Bettencourt – Yes, would be for a group of issues, not trying to run up meter per voter or per issue
    • Heard of irregularities like incorrect reporting of daily totals, lack of chain of custody, etc.
    • Violations of code that are not criminal are basically defined as ‘irregular’
  • Lucio – Need clear definitions so we never have a question of misinterpretation

 

Alan Vera, Harris County Republican Party Ballot Security Committee – For

  • When voters see irregularities with no recourse, they become suspicious
  • Not about overturning results, about finding out discrepancies
  • Have seen irregularities like more ballots than voters, errors in election logs, errors in canvas reports, etc.
  • Public Information Act doesn’t allow us to ask, SB 47 allows us to ask for explanations
  • Bill also allows people to look at mail ballot issues like deceased voters requesting ballots
  • Lucio – What other solutions have been put forth at the local level, have they asked for help from the state that minimize human errors and don’t disenfranchise people?
    • Last two leaders of elections process in Harris County had no elections experience, need to think about setting minimum requirements for knowledge and experience
    • Need proficiency requirements for election judges, need trainers who have worked elections
    • Also just changed election equipment, only 30% of election judges will have hands on training by the next election, no clerks will have hands on training
  • Lucio – See a possibility of course of study & degree for election processes
  • Bettencourt – Said there were 3k and 2k discrepancies on election day? Does this include the 1,884?
    • 203,737, over 6k were questionable, either voter without a ballot, or ballot without a voter
  • Bettencourt – Any implication for state races?
    • Rep. Schofield has a lot of precincts who should’ve voted his ballot style did not
  • Bettencourt – Remember a time in Harris County when there were problems with election officials, they would be reviewed by both parties and would not be hired back; seems to not be done; bill is not trying to eliminate all errors
    • Also have issues with No Ballot Codes being issued for regular ballots, should be provisional; judges issuing these are rehired

 

Chad Ennis, Texas Public Policy Foundation – For

  • Faith in elections is shockingly low right now, only 58% of voters think 2020 election was free and fair, 60% lacked confidence in elections in 2019
  • SB 47 is a good step, looks back at 2020 and looks forward; important that this is a non-judicial administrative process
  • One of the best audit bills, outlines what we look at, what we do with this, limited on who can ask, important that it looks at election day, mail in, and early voting, as well as rejected ballots
  • Bettencourt – Trying to ask specific questions to get specific answers, what’s measured gets fixed
    • Correct, have seen a lot of hearsay testimony without data behind it, SB 47 will allow us to investigate

 

Chase Bearden, Coalition of Texans with Disabilities – Against

  • Nothing in here that will stop party chairs from doing this out in the open and using it as a political tool; would be better to keep this between party, county, and SoS office
  • Needs to be a system set up so taxpayer is not paying for frivolous claims
  • Hughes – If it’s going to be done, you’re concerned it will be public and used politically; is there a problem beyond this?
    • If you feel there is a problem that can’t be fixed by County or SoS, then you should be spending time with SoS looking at what is needed to address it
    • Need to allow them to do their job and keep it from becoming something that could be used by either party
  • Bettencourt – Have 3 layers, initial question with 20 day answer period, ask again for 10 days, then SoS will be notified, can order audit for 20%, then can order another 20% if a problem is found, have steps built in to try and avoid what you’re worried about
    • Completely agree so long as it doesn’t become a press release issue that day

 

Dr. Laura Pressley, True Texas Elections – For

  • First half of SB 47 is a great bill, concerned with second half
  • Bill is a partial audit
  • State County Chair being a controlling factor is a political position, doesn’t give voice to independent voters; maybe could add barrier like petition by 5% of voters
  • County Clerk picking precincts is a concern; also allow precinct and polling locations, but election results are reported by precinct so there’s nothing to audit
  • Margin of error is also a concern, should be no margin of error on election results
  • Hughes – At the county level there is a record for each polling place
    • There is not, this isn’t a metric that’s reported
    • Canvasing authorities should also be doing locally what your bill is saying, but this is currently discretionary
  • Bettencourt – Locals are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing; SB 47 really ends at a full audit, with 20% steps along the way
    • Also a problem that audit logs are nowhere in the bill to use, tapes should be used
  • Bettencourt – This is why precincts with more registered voters than ballots are in there
    • Tapes produced should be used for early votes, audit log for election day, and ballot numbering
    • Canvasing authorities should be checking numbers

 

Keith Ingram, Secretary of State’s Office – Resource

  • Hughes – Lets talk about vote reporting by precinct and records kept
    • Usually when we talk about elections, precincts are polling locations, but results are then reported by voter registration precinct
    • Tally tape is taken from polling location that is taken from check in number
  • Hughes – IS the language in the bill clear, people would know
    • Language is clear, but type of recount is not specified, believe manual recount is in the bill, but not specified
  • Hughes – What’s the alternative
    • Manual recount versus running through the machine; you want a manual recount, but that needs to be specified
  • Bettencourt – Agree, thought the bill would be clear as it was the only possible route, can clarify if necessary
    • It should be

 

Stephanie Gomez, Common Cause Texas – Against

  • SB 47 will create chaos in elections, will allow for partisan challenges of already certified elections; will keep alive conspiracy theories
  • Allows for partisan checks with little evidence
  • Issue has still not been added to official call, partisan politics in election process will only stoke doubts and divide us

 

James Slattery, Texas Civil Rights Project – Against

  • Can request audits under bill without any reason to suspect there is a flaw, no objective or subjective standard for requesting audits, no penalty for bad faith or frivolous claims
  • Doesn’t require audits to be done within a reasonable period of time
  • Identifies no source of state funding for audits, counties and local governments will have to pay and cost is likely to be enormous
  • Losing candidates will be able to harass election officials
  • Bettencourt – Individuals authorized under the bill do not decide whether to trigger an audit; also not an election contest, so cannot resolve disputes, intent is to look at election irregularities and get responses
    • Process is triggered without need for reasonable belief, also up to requestor’s discretion to take it to the next level if they don’t like the response
  • Bettencourt – There is a review process, fit here are frivolous requests I hope they are denied
    • To ensure this happens it should be worked into text of the bill

 

Katya Ehresman, Common Cause Texas – Against

  • Concerned about late filing and hearings, also about conversation focusing on human error, but bill does nothing to shore up training
  • Election integrity cannot be achieved without racial impact analysis, need accessibility
  • SB 47 has the ability to be weaponized in bad faith
  • After audit in Maricopa, confidence only dropped & only for Republicans

 

Marsha Strickler, Wilco We the People – For

  • In support of SB 47, process is necessary; was involved in complaints and an election lawsuit, complaints were not responded to by the SoS or AG & lawsuit went nowhere
  • Bettencourt – Notes that the bill is written to set up a civil question process, does not touch election lawsuits

 

SB 47 left pending until later

 

SB 9 (Hughes) Relating to increasing the criminal penalty for the offense of illegal voting.

  • Hughes laid out the bill & opened public testimony

 

Alan Vera, Harris County Republican Party Ballot Security Committee – For

  • Primary purpose of criminal penalties is as a deterrent, bad actors less likely to act if there is a serious penalty
  • Offenses in bill are serious & bill requires the be done knowingly

 

James Slattery, Texas Civil Rights Project – On

  • SB 9 reveals that legislative process is broken, proponents of SB 1 repeatedly told opponents to read bill, but now expressing surprise that lowered penalties are in SB 9
  • Signifies that bill is rushed; SB 1 had souls to the polls provision and election overturning provision
  • laws should not be written with provisions that surprise legislators, should give them consideration
  • Hughes – Might do your research on souls to the polls, start time hadn’t changed
    • Some supporters said the inclusion was a typo
  • Bettencourt – If you bring something up should do your research if that’s what you’re asking us to do
    • Repeating the comments of Rep. Clardy
  • Bettencourt – Not talking about House Representatives nor his comments, talking about souls to the polls specifically
    • But SB 7 would’ve made that standard all over the state, so you intended to ban souls to the polls
  • Bettencourt – No, that’s not correct, has been 1pm in those 2 major counties for a very long time
    • So you’re saying no black Texans voted anywhere in the state before 1pm
  • Bettencourt – Saying that it has been 1pm in Harris and others for a very long time
    • You mentioned 2 counties, but there are 254 in Texas

 

Marsha Strickler, Wilco We the People – For

  • For SB 9, appreciates finding the floor amendment glitch, was a bad amendment; shouldn’t move backwards on election code

 

SB 9 left pending until later

 

Hughes – Will recess and then come back upon adjournment of the Senate

 

Senate State Affairs reconvened at 7:30pm

 

SB 10 (Hughes) Relating to increasing the criminal penalty for committing certain offenses relating to elections.

  • Hughes – Same as SB 9, but also removes attempted election fraud amendment; bill already penalized making any effort to commit fraud
  • SB 10 voted out to full Senate (5-2)

 

SB 47 (Bettencourt) Relating to processes to address election irregularities; providing a civil penalty.

  • Birdwell – Governor’s call asked for legislation increasing the penalties lowered in SB 1, but concerned that SB 47 is not in the call
  • Assume parliamentarian will address this tomorrow
  • Bill does not address criminal penalties for illegality, want parliamentarian to ensure we’re not moving SB 47 in violation of Article 3, Sec. 40 of the TX Constitution
  • Hughes – So you’re not raising a POO at this time?
    • Birdwell – No, want to consult with the parliamentarian, just concerned we’re technically and tactically proficient inside the Governor’s call
  • SB 47 voted out to full Senate (6-2)

 

SB 9 (Hughes) Relating to increasing the criminal penalty for the offense of illegal voting.

  • SB 9 voted out to full Senate (6-2)

 

Committee adjourned