Election Integrity Again a Hot Topic in Texas | opinion
Election integrity has become a hot topic again, and we continued our work to ensure our elections are easy to vote for – and hard to cheat. That’s what we’ve focused on since we took office last year, and we’re proud of the tremendous accomplishments that have been made over the past year to further secure our elections and restore confidence in Texans. Ronald Reagan once said:
“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than a generation away from extinction. It does not belong to us through inheritance, it has to be constantly fought for and defended from generation to generation, because it only comes to a people once. Those who knew freedom and then lost it never knew it again.”
In a conversation with Benjamin Franklin, believed to have taken place after a session of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, someone asked him, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
It would be foolish to adopt the mentality that our job is done. It would be foolish to assume that we have arrived, our republic is secure, and we can now rest on our laurels. No – we must keep moving forward and make sure we do everything in our power to preserve the republic that brought freedom and opportunity to the people of this great nation. The basis of this republic is the ability to elect representatives to uphold and govern our constitution.
Where do we go from here? What do we do next?
First, let’s review where we are and what else can be done. A new focus is electoral security:
In early May, I traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to attend the National Conference of State Legislators’ Reliable Elections Exchange for the Southern States (NCSL). During this gathering of lawmakers, secretaries of state, election administrators, and national election experts, we examined what states are doing to ensure elections are safe and easy to vote. Fortunately, Texas excels in all of the key areas raised during the conference. When it comes to election accuracy and procedures before, during and after the election, Texas has some very good laws on the books.
Cybersecurity was an area of discussion during the meeting that I found interesting and delved into. We generally understand that this threat is growing and becoming more sophisticated. We use technology to block them, but the most common way to compromise our security is through phishing scams, where we unknowingly enter our username and password on a fake website and hand the keys to our system. Having the best technology, policies and procedures is critical to protecting our voting system.
In Section 279 of the Texas Election Code, we require the Texas Secretary of State to issue rules that define classes of protected election data and best practices to identify and mitigate risks to the electronic use, storage and transmission of election data and the security of election systems . You are then required to provide this training annually to all relevant secretaries of staff and election officers.
In addition, a District Returning Officer must obtain a cybersecurity assessment of the district’s electoral system, upon recommendation by the Secretary of State. To the extent government funds are available, the county will then take cybersecurity measures to ensure that all devices with access to election data comply as much as possible. We plan to spend some time with local election officials and the Texas Secretary of State’s office to determine how this is working and where improvements can be made.
On the 11th of this month we also had our first preliminary hearing of the House Election Committee. The agenda included “examining the effectiveness of new training for election observers” and “examining reporting of election results“. We heard testimonies and interviewed Keith Ingram, Texas Secretary of State; Heider Garcia, Tarrant County Election Administrator; and Isabel Longoria and Beth Stevens, Harris County Electoral Administration Office.
We have been made aware of the Harris County Election Administrator’s actions during the last election and her intention to do the same for this runoff: have mobile counting stations. Section 127.066 of the Texas Election Code requires two poll workers to deliver the sealed ballot box to the central counting station. It hires workers as a “central counting station” to collect all sealed ballots. During the hearing, when this was raised, Mr. Ingram clearly stated that this was not allowed and contradicted her assessment that the practice was legal.
First, the Texas Secretary of State Elections Division is an advisory body to the counties who are ultimately responsible for elections in their county.
Second, according to the Texas Court of Appeals, the Texas Attorney General cannot unilaterally prosecute electoral cases. This was based on their belief that doing so violated the Texas Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine by giving the executive branch of the Texas Attorney General criminal prosecution power reserved for county and district attorneys, who are members of the judiciary.
In the case of run-off elections, these elections are mandated by the political parties to be conducted by the election administrator. If, in the course of administering an election held for him, the election administrator states that he intends to break the law or is caught breaking the law, he should take legal action to prevent or stop it. We believe this appeal will be pursued.
Enforcing the election law requires us to help monitor and report things. Being an election observer for a candidate or election activity is a great way to see first-hand what’s happening in the polls and in the counting grounds. You can register as an election observer for any campaign. Training is required to become an election observer. It’s free and easy to fill out online.
Jacey Jetton (R-Sugar Land) is the State Representative for House District 26, which includes Fort Bend County.