Politics & Government

Citing previous voting problems, Democrats ask Texas to ensure secure elections in 2020

Don’t mess with Texas.

Or its voters.

That’s the message congressional Democrats in Texas hoped to deliver Wednesday, when they sent a letter to state election officials calling on them to make sure next year’s presidential election is secure and that all voters have access to voting and registration.

Of concern is whether there are any vulnerabilities in the state’s election infrastructure and whether some voters will face hurdles, as they have in the past, when they register to vote or actually cast their ballots.

“The 2016 and 2018 election cycles exposed many flaws in our electoral system,” U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, wrote in a letter to the Texas Secretary of State on behalf of all Texas congressional Democrats. “In the state of Texas, thousands of voters face a multitude of barriers that hinder their participation in our democracy.”

Texas has a new Secretary of State — Ruth R. Hughs — who was appointed after the previous top election official resigned following a failed voter purge attempt of tens of thousands of non-citizens that ended up targeting a number of U.S. citizens.

Beyond that, Veasey said there were thousands of reports in 2016 about problems with poll locations, voter ID requirements and voter registration status.

“Voter suppression tactics became more widespread during the 2018 midterms, where the top barriers to voting became: long lines and later openings at polls, issues with voter registrations, restrictive voter ID laws, intimidation and deceptive practices at polling stations, lack of voter assistance, and aggressive voter list purges,” the letter stated.

There are more than 15 million registered voters in Texas.

They’ll head to the polls in November to decide constitutional amendments and local issues before the crowds grow for the 2020 presidential primary and general election.

“It is incumbent upon your office to correct the voting challenges that have occurred in the past two elections,” the letter by congressional Democrats stated. “At the same time, any security vulnerabilities must be addressed before next year’s elections.

“It is our shared responsibility to make sure all of our citizens can express their will at the ballot box, unencumbered or unadulterated by outside forces.”

Russian interference

Security concerns have plagued election officials across the country since Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats talked about what they personally could do to counter interference during their state convention in Fort Worth last year.

All of this comes as Tarrant voters will use new electronic voting equipment for the first time this November.

The machines have a touchscreen where voters can review the ballot and make their choices. The machine will print a list of the choices made. After voters review that sheet, they’ll put it in one of the scanners to formally cast their vote.

This November also will be the first time Tarrant County voters have the ability to cast their ballots at any polling place in the county on Election Day. The system, known as countywide vote centers, is used by several other counties around the state.

Election security

In the letter sent Wednesday, Democrats requested written answers to 11 questions.

The questions asked what has been done to improve election security since 2016 and how $23 million in Help America Vote Act funds was spent in Texas.

Other questions also addressed what is being done to prevent “foreign disinformation warfare,” what steps are being taken to make sure new election systems properly count ballots and how the state is gearing up for the 2020 census.

“Given the difficulties the State of Texas faced during 2016 and 2018 elections — and the importance of the upcoming elections in 2020 — we urge you to work to resolve any outstanding issues,” the letter stated.

The Secretary of State’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.