AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Could Texas revert back to paper ballots in the next election? A panel of lawmakers heard testimony Monday on the merits of a new bill that would require a paper trail that the state would audit.
Senate Bill 9, filed by State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, requires a voter-verifiable paper audit trail for elections systems, creating a pilot program to use this paper trail to make sure the results match the votes cast and providing more timely evidence in investigations into alleged voter fraud.
The bill was born out of the work from the Senate Select Committee on Election Security created by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in between legislative sessions, in an effort to bolster election security in the state.
“The report of the committee, which was supported unanimously by the members, endorsed the adoption of election systems with a paper ballot or paper backup,” Hughes said Monday. “As of the end of last year 36 states use systems only with a paper component, five use electronic only, and nine states like us have a combination of the two.”
The bill would require the Texas Secretary of State — who serves as the chief elections administrator — to implement a pilot program and a series of audits to make sure electronic systems are counting votes correctly.
The bill was introduced in the Senate State Affairs Committee with mixed reaction Monday.
Supporters argue for tighter restrictions on the state’s elections in order to prevent tampering. They worry that without a paper trail, there are ways to manipulate the final result in an election.
“The people of Texas deserve to know that when they have cast a vote we have done everything within our power to make sure their vote is counted the way they intended for it to be counted,” State Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) said, stating that he believed this legislation was on track to do that.
Critics worry the legislation reverses advancements in voting booth technology by forcing paper tracking.
The bill would also prohibit anyone from impeding walkways, sidewalks, parking lots, or roadways within 1,000 feet of a polling place. Current law prohibits electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place.
“One of the implications is it essentially increases the area responsible for a poll worker or presiding judge by tenfold,” Williamson County Elections Administrator Chris Davis told lawmakers.
“Currently it’s 100 feet outside the polling place, and it goes to more than 3 football fields, 1,000 feet, and we can’t see this but taking time away from the principal purpose of our judges conducting elections in that area,” Davis, who serves as president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators, said, as he asked lawmakers how that portion of the legislation would be enforced.
The bill was left pending in committee.