Texas lawmakers have voted to reverse an expensive state law requiring election officials to replace all their current vote-counting equipment with technology that doesn’t exist.
An unprecedented mandate the Legislature passed in 2021, without fully realizing its consequences, would have decertified equipment that counties currently use to count votes, to be replaced by machines on which data “once written, cannot be modified,” at an estimated cost of more than $100 million.
The bill amending the requirement is now headed to the governor’s desk. It will allow counties to use the equipment they already have.
The initial measure, aimed at preventing the tampering of vote data, passed in 2021 on a voice vote without debate, largely unnoticed, tucked into the sweeping voting law Senate Bill 1.
In February, Votebeat reported on the problems with the mandate and election officials’ growing concerns. This year’s legislative session was the best opportunity to amend the proposal before it took effect for the 2026 elections.
In March, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Republican, and other lawmakers filed legislation to amend the law, which, according to the secretary of state’s office, would have also required the purchase of new equipment for each election.
Hughes’ proposal to amend the provision — Senate Bill 1661 — was approved unanimously by both chambers. During a Senate committee hearing in March, Hughes said that there had been a “misunderstanding on the scope” of the provision, though he didn’t elaborate.
Election administrators who tried to sound the alarm on the problem without success in 2021 are relieved.
“It’s nice that, you know, the powers that be finally listened to what we’ve been saying all along on that issue,” said Chris Davis, who is the Williamson County elections administrator and a member of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators. The organization mobilized and reached out to lawmakers to make them aware of the provision’s implications. And, Davis said, Votebeat’s reporting also fueled the urgency that led to the corrective legislation.
When Sen. Bob Hall, supported by Hughes, first proposed the requirement in 2021, both legislators said it would prevent “cheating” and the “manipulation” of vote data stored in USB flash drives and taken from polling places to central counting stations — although there’s no evidence any such thing has ever happened.
The law prohibited counties from using reusable storage devices, such as the USB flash drives, which are certified by the secretary of state. The “once written, cannot be modified” requirement also prohibits the use of equipment such as ballot scanners and tabulating machines, all now used to count votes. The technology the law required, known as “write once, read many,” or WORM devices, generally refers to CD or DVD drives and the discs they burn data onto.
Votebeat reported that in order to fully comply, counties would have to buy entirely new voting systems for each election, since the whole point is that the equipment can’t be reused. The secretary of state’s office estimated that it would cost taxpayers more than $116 million to replace the eliminated equipment, plus an ongoing cost of more than $37 million every two years, since new equipment would have to be purchased for each election. And that’s only if counties could have found such equipment. Voting equipment that would match the requirements does not appear to have been invented by any election equipment company operating in the United States.
See here and here for the background. Not stepping on the rakes that you yourself have strewn in your path isn’t really a victory for truth and justice, but we take what we can get around here. As noted before, the real lesson here is that Bob Hall is as stupid as he is malevolent, and no one should ever listen to him.
With good news comes the bad news.
The Texas House of Representatives gave crucial approval on Tuesday to a Republican-backed effort rooted in conspiracy theories that would remove the state from a national coalition that helps prevent voter fraud.
Senate Bill 1070, authored by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, was approved by the House on a 85-61 vote. The bill would allow Texas to withdraw from the Electronic Registration Information Center, also known as ERIC, a multistate program used for checking duplicate voter registrations and cleaning voter rolls. The bill is now headed back to the Senate for approval of changes proposed by Rep. John Bucy, D-Austin, that would add requirements to comply with federal and state privacy guidelines if an alternative system is contracted by the state.
ERIC, considered by election administration experts across the country to be the best tool for preventing double voting across state lines, has been a target of viral conspiracy theories spread since early last year by a fringe conservative publication, The Gateway Pundit. The nonpartisan program compares voter registration rolls from all its member states, along with other data, to flag voters who have died, moved away, or registered elsewhere so that states can remove outdated registrations from their rolls.
Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, spoke against the bill Tuesday and said it was concerning to see the Texas Legislature take such action based on a conspiracy theory.
“That’s why I don’t understand why we have this bill before us, particularly when we know the data shows that ERIC has helped Texas identify duplicate registrations, and that’s exactly what we should be trying to do,” Turner said.
Texas law requires the state to participate in a multistate data-sharing program to clean its voter rolls, and the state has been a member of ERIC since 2020. The Texas Legislature budgets about $1.5 million to participate in the program. About $115,000 of those funds pay for annual fees to use ERIC’s voter-matching data. The rest of the funds go to paying for postage, mailing, and printing costs to send notices to residents ERIC identifies as eligible voters who are not yet registered, an effort the program requires of its member states.
Members of the ERIC task force argued the state was spending too much money on the program and suggested Texas could instead use private-sector alternatives. Members of the ERIC task force also pushed for the state to stop spending funds on such mailers for eligible voters.
Hughes’ bill directs the secretary of state to build its own version of a multistate cross-check program or to find a “private sector provider” with a cost that won’t exceed $100,000.
In March, the secretary of state announced it was taking steps to build its own version of the program and researching viable options in the private sector. Votebeat reported those efforts could stall or take years.
The bill nonetheless requires such a system to identify voters whose addresses have changed, who have died, or who are ineligible to vote, including because they have been convicted of a felony. Lastly, the bill also requires that a contract with the private sector provider “may not require any additional duty of the state” that isn’t listed in the legislation — such as the mailers to unregistered but eligible voters that ERIC requires its member states to send.
Bucy proposed changes to the bill that election policy experts say are “guardrails” on systems that could potentially replace the program.
Bucy’s amendment strikes language in the bill that seeks to identify “voters who have been convicted of a felony; and who are not eligible to vote including a felony conviction” and changes it to “voters who are ineligible” under the state Election Code. The amendment also now requires any system the state uses to comply with federal and state laws relating to the protection of personal information.
The changes, which would have to be approved by the Senate before the bill goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, also say the secretary of state may not contract with a private-sector system unless the contractor requires a background check for its employees. Such a system must also use data from the National Change of Address database to screen for voters who have moved.
“Adding that extra component of verification beyond whatever this mystery vendor might provide is probably a good change,” said Daniel Griffith, senior policy director at Secure Democracy USA, who added that the requirements could help with the state obtaining more accurate information. “But the question is now whether the Senate will accept those amendments.”
See here for some background. As of Saturday the revised SB1070 was still awaiting action in the Senate, so it’s possible this could die. Not the worst outcome if that happens. Kudos to Rep. Bucy for the amendments to make this less bad. Maybe if this does pass it will ultimately be a little harder to “clean up” the voter rolls, which is probably not what the lunatics who have pushed this would want. In any event, this is more indicative of the kind of session this has been.