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House Interim Committee on Elections
Charge

Review legislation that passed the House, but died in the Senate during the 74th Regular Session, specifically H.B. 483, H.B. 1859, H.B. 2239, H.B. 2241, and H.B. 2243.
Background

During the 74th Legislature, the House Interim Committee on Elections assigned subcommittees to hold hearings in election-related areas, including judicial finance reform, voting by affidavit (a person who appears at the polls without a voter registration card and whose name does not appear in the voter rolls can cast a ballot by signing an affidavit that the person is entitled to vote), early voting by mail, general cleanup of the election process, and issues related to election precincts and polling places. The result of the subcommittees' work were several omnibus bills, which, except for H.B. 2239 (relating to early voting process and procedures and providing for criminal penalties), were uncontroversial.
Recommendation

  • File bills as new legislation for the 75th Regular Session and consider them early by the committee so that there will be time for the legislation to pass both the House and the Senate.
    Charge

    Study the problems associated with early voting by mail.
    Background

    The committee established the House Subcommittee on Early Voting by Mail and Primary Election Dates (subcommittee) to study problems associated with early voting by mail, study the feasibility of moving the primary, and consider holding a separate presidential primary. To be eligible to vote by mail, a voter must meet certain statutory criteria. Testimony before the subcommittee concerning early voting by mail revealed widespread manipulation and fraud within the system.
    Recommendations

  • Draft legislation to address early voting issues. The subcommittee asked the Texas Secretary of State to suggest legislative reforms. The secretary suggested:

  • Prohibiting the release of information regarding applications for ballots by mail until the close of early voting in person;

  • Raising the age requirement for requesting a ballot by mail from 65 years of age to 70;

  • Increasing the penalties for election fraud, prohibiting electioneering by campaign workers within 100 feet of a voter's residence while the voter is in possession of a ballot, and making it a crime for a campaign worker to handle the ballot;

  • Defining disability for the purpose of receiving a ballot by mail and requiring either a doctor's certificate or a disability statement form the voter; and

  • Requiring that the ballot can be mailed only to the voter's registration address, unless the voter is outside the county, confined to jail, or residing in a nursing home.

  • Eliminate bulk shipments of voted early mail ballots.

  • Warn voters in the mail balloting directions not to give their ballots to strangers.

  • Increase the Secretary of State Office's Elections Division enforcement authority.
    Charge

    Study the feasibility of moving the primary election date and consider holding a separate presidential primary.
    Background

    In 1988, Texas changed its primary dates from May to March to join in the early regional primary, known as "Super Tuesday," in hopes of increasing Southern influence. However, attention now focuses on the early primaries, beginning in February, so the move did not have as much impact as hoped. The March primary date gives candidates less time to campaign. There was no consensus or supporting testimony for holding a separate presidential primary.
    Recommendation

  • Consider moving the primary date.
    Charge

    Monitor and oversee agencies and programs under the committee's jurisdiction, including the implementation of the 1995 Judicial Campaign Fairness Act (Act).
    Background

    The committee established the House Subcommittee on Judicial Campaign Fairness Act and Voting Rights Act (JCFA Subcommittee), which held public hearings on the Act. The Act, applicable to all appellate court justices and judges, as well as to district, statutory county, or statutory probate court judges, sets mandatory limits on campaign contributions and voluntary limits on campaign expenditures.
    Recommendations

  • Amend Section 253.152 (4) of the Election Code (Code) to include in the definition of a "noncomplying candidate" a judicial candidate who fails to file a declaration concerning whether the candidate intends to comply with the Act's voluntary expenditure limits.

  • Amend Section 253.153 of the Code to clarify that a judicial candidate in a primary runoff and unopposed in the November general election may accept contributions for the period ending 120 days after the primary runoff.

  • Amend the Code to set out a time limit for returning excess contributions from sources other than general-purpose political committees or persons affiliated with law firms.

  • Amend Section 253.157 of the Code so that the limits on total contributions includes specific-purpose political committees supporting judicial candidates and law firms.

  • Amend the Code to allow a newly-appointed judge the time necessary to raise funds for the judge's office holder account.
    Charge

    Study how the State of Texas can be removed from the U.S. Justice Department's enforcement of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
    Background

    Section 5 of the VRA provides that states, counties, or towns who had used literacy tests or other devices to discourage minority voters cannot implement a new voting procedure without first obtaining approval from the U.S. Attorney General or the District Court of District Columbia. Texas falls within Section 5. If a covered jurisdiction establishes that, during the preceding 10 years, it has complied with the VRA and undertaken efforts to ensure equal participation by minorities, the jurisdiction may escape Section 5 coverage.
    Recommendations

  • The JCFA Subcommittee requested the following information from the Texas Secretary of State's Office:

  • the cost to Texas of complying with the VRA;

  • can the U.S. Department of Justice explain how Texas can come into compliance; and

  • how is Texas not in compliance and what steps can be taken to obtain compliance.