AUSTIN, Texas — More than 8 million Texans cast a ballot in the November election. There was no widespread evidence of voter fraud, and election officials said it ran smoothly overall.
But citing a study by the conservative organization Judicial Watch, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said several smaller counties in Texas have voter registration rates that exceed 100% of eligible voters.
“I will just say [that] gives a lack of confidence... when people say, ‘What do you mean we have more people registered than are eligible to vote?’ And I don’t like that,” Sen. Kolkhorst said in a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing last week.
Her bill is advancing through the Senate. Essentially, it would put unresponsive voters on a suspense list if they haven’t cast a ballot in more than two years. If they don’t respond to a notice for another two years, they’d be kicked off the voter rolls.
Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, said she still gets a voter registration card for her son, even though he hasn’t lived at home since 2015.
“It’s 2023. There ought to be a way to keep things more current than that,” Sen. Paxton said.
Sen. Kolkhorst said this bill would address that.
“What Republicans tend to be concerned about is the perception of potential voter fraud, even if it doesn’t occur, and the possibility that it might occur in the future, even if it hasn’t occurred in the past, which leads to these types of reforms,” said Rice University political science professor Mark Jones.
Several Texans signed up to testify for the bill. San Antonio resident Jeff Clay is a precinct chair in Bexar County, and he said he’s served as an election judge before.
“The voter rolls are a huge problem. We’ve been looking at them for quite some time, and I’m interested in anything that can clean them up and make them better,” Clay said.
Others aren’t so fond of the legislation. Dr. Susana Carranza, who has also served as an election judge in Austin, believes the bill would discourage people from voting.
“If too many people get a letter saying they’re on [a] suspense [list], even though the fine print might say you can fix this, they would absolutely assume that they cannot vote,” she said. “So I’ve seen that happen many, many times. So we don’t want to go there. It’s the wrong direction to go.”
Jones said if someone hasn’t voted for a long time, it’s often an indicator that they’ve moved and are registered elsewhere. But if the bill passes, he expects it would impact a small group of Texans.
“It’s not likely to prevent much fraud, but I think we can pretty much be in agreement that there will be a subset of Texans who will turn out to vote and not be able to vote because of this legislation,” Jones said.
He added that around 20 other states purge their voter rolls after about eight years of inactivity. If this bill passes, unresponsive voters in Texas would be removed in half that amount of time.
“Texas in some ways, right now, is somewhat of an outlier in that it doesn’t purge the voter rolls for reasons of inactivity,” Jones said. “If it adopted this legislation, it would flip to the other end, where we’d be far more vigorous in purging the voter rolls of inactive voters than most, if not all, other states.”