I mean, what were we supposed to believe?
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stunned election administrators across the state last week when he released an opinion that, in theory, would allow anyone to access ballots almost immediately after they were counted.
Records show that, as recently as five days before the office released that opinion, it was providing the exact opposite guidance to counties.
“The information at issue is confidential for at least 22 months after election day,” a public records opinion from the office, dated Aug. 12, reads. “Accordingly, the district attorney’s office must withhold the information at issue.”
Then, five days later, Paxton released his new opinion. “Members of the public” the new guidance read, are welcome to inspect “voted ballots during the 22-month preservation period.”
“What a difference five days makes,” said Chris Davis, elections administrator in Williamson County.
The record shows that Tarrant County did not receive the opinion telling it not to release the ballots until Aug. 22 — five days after Paxton issued his new opinion. This left the county unsure of how to proceed, and by that time, it had already challenged the new opinion in court. Paxton’s office did not respond to questions about what, if anything, changed in the five day period between the contradictory opinions.
Tarrant County’s court challenge to Paxton’s new opinion was filed as part of an ongoing records dispute. Citing yet another opinion issued to the office this summer, this one dated July 26 and also instructing the county not to release ballots, attorneys for the county’s election department asked the judge to find Paxton’s new opinion “erroneous.”
“On August 17, 2022, the Attorney General issued a formal opinion concluding for the first time in almost 40 years that voted ballots are not confidential,” they wrote. “The Attorney General’s most recent interpretation is erroneous, and the Court should not follow it.”
“We have two documents coming from the same office saying opposite things,” Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia told Votebeat. “We’ve got to figure out what’s the path we’re going to walk to do our job.”
Garcia has clear reason to be concerned about the ruling. Earlier this year, after the 22 month window for the March 2020 primary lapsed, a group of activists spent weeks inside his office examining the 300,000 ballots cast by Tarrant County voters. The request took Garcia weeks to fulfill, and then required a dedicated room with videotaped surveillance and a staffer’s supervision.
“You want it as safeguarded as possible in case you actually do have a criminal investigation or some sort of proceeding where [ballots] become evidence,” Garcia said. “Ballots are really easy to alter. You just grab a Sharpie and draw a line on them and now how do you know if it’s been altered or not? Having absolute protection on the physical document, to me, is extremely important.”
See here for the background. I cannot think of a good reason for the sudden turnaround, not to mention the chaos caused by the out-of-order delivery of the contradicting opinions in Fort Worth. The simplest explanation is sheer incompetence. Which would be a surprise given that office’s track record – they’re evil, but they’ve been pretty effective at it. If you have a better idea, by all means say so.
I trust that the irony of Heider Garcia’s words in that last paragraph aren’t lost on anyone. The single biggest threat to the security of the ballots is the idiots that demand to “audit” them, who have to be watched like hawks to ensure they don’t accidentally or deliberately spoil them. I hope that the madness this all represents is helping to drive home the message that Republicans are a clear threat to democracy, as the January 6 hearings and confidential-document-theft-a-palooza have been doing. There are plenty of other things to be talking about as well, from guns to abortion to LGBTQ rights to climate change and renewable energy, but we can’t lose sight of this one. Whatever it’s going to take to convince people they can’t trust the Republican Party as it now exists, we need to be doing it.