County voter admin worries bill would burden local election officials

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A new push to verify the state’s voter rolls was met with divided testimony in the Texas House elections committee.

The proposal would add requirements for county voter registrars in the state.

House Bill 3576 would update the responsibilities for county voter registrars in Texas. It would require county election officials to investigate whether “each registered voter is currently eligible for registration in the county.”

This is a change from the current Election Code, which states registrars “may investigate.” The bill’s author said the updated phrasing aims to require more regular voter roll maintenance.

“Maintaining the list of eligible voters is one of the most important tasks of any voter registrar,” State Representative Stephanie Klick (R-Forth Worth) said as she laid out the bill in the elections committee, which she chairs.

“If list maintenance is occurring — as it should across the state — House Bill 3576 will not change anything and the good work all of our counties are doing will continue,” said Klick.

Williamson County elections administrator Christopher Davis told lawmakers the proposed change would put more on his already full plate. 

“The time personnel and resources required for this new ongoing mandate would be almost beyond measure for any county,” Davis testified. He said he believed the legislation “essentially conveys the burden and responsibilities of a private investigator.”

Austin Democrat Celia Israel also voiced concern about the potential burden of requiring county election officials to investigate believed cases of ineligible voter registration, but argued many registrars already operate at this level.

“Large and growing counties which we have a lot of in Texas, are very careful about it,” Israel said. “They’re watching it, and they’re doing it all the time.”

Israel, who is serving her third session on the elections committee, said she also saw benefit in the bill, as long as the language is clear.

“You can write a bill very generally and have unintended consequences, or you can write it very specifically and you didn’t mean for it to be a heavy-handed bill,” she said after the hearing. “Let’s find that right language that is going to get the output that we desire which is a good voter rolls, supporting our county officials.” 

“I have no grand fears that we are not following the law,” she added. “But if we can pass a bill that provide some structure to my friends at the county level, then I want to be a part of that.”

A spokesperson for the Texas Secretary of State’s office indicated the legislation would not affect operations at the state level aside from continued communication with counties to ensure updated voter rolls. 

The Secretary of State is charged with administering elections in Texas.

“The Texas Secretary of State’s office stands ready to follow the direction of the Texas Legislature and provide training to county election officials on any changes to the Texas Election Code,” said spokesperson Sam Taylor.

Klick maintains the bill focuses on voter roll hygiene, and not an attempt to deny registrants from voting.

“We are not asking people to screen all prospective registered voters when they register,” she said. “This is just ones that have been identified through the normal course of business.”

The bill was left pending in committee.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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