Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says local elections in Texas have been altered by voter fraud, though he admits there were no known cases in the state in 2020, and says he is taking steps to "ensure election integrity in Texas" through legislative action. Abbott says laws must be written to prevent election officials from jeopardizing the election process and to ensure poll watchers have access to observing ballot counts.
Abbott was joined by Texas Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston, District 7) and Texas Representative Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park, District 128) in Houston Monday morning to announce combatting election fraud as an emergency item this legislative session.
"Election fraud is unacceptable and that's exactly why I made it an emergency item this session," Abbott said Monday. "What we've seen in the past is that election fraud takes place. I have no doubt that it took place here in the state of Texas."
On Monday, the governor said when he was attorney general he prosecuted people across the state for allegations of election fraud. Abbott was last attorney general in 2015 but did say the state's current attorney general, Ken Paxton, has also prosecuted election fraud crimes.
Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas, District 16), representing the Senate Democratic Caucus, said during a news conference Monday afternoon that Paxton's office spent 22,000 staff hours investigating voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election and found only 16 minor offenses, where there were small infractions such as addresses not matching, out of the 11 million ballots cast.
"I've got a little calculator on my phone, and it tells me that's .0000015% of votes cast have a little minor problem. And we're going to have an omnibus voter suppression bill in response? I don't think so. I hope not," Johnson said.
The governor also said that he was aware that election fraud had changed the outcome of a local election, but didn't elaborate on when that was, who was involved or what ultimately happened as a result of the fraud, only that he didn't know if any occurred last year.
"What we have found in the past, there have been some local elections the outcome of which was altered by election fraud that took place. Right now I don't know how many, or if any, elections in the state of Texas in 2020 were altered because of voter fraud," Abbott said.
Abbott reiterated that the point of the new legislation was to ensure that only those who are legally able to vote are the ones casting ballots.
"Our objective is very simple and that is to ensure that every eligible voter gets to vote. It's also to ensure that only eligible votes are the ones that count at the ballot box," Abbott said. "Any voter fraud that takes place sows seeds of distrust in the election process. The more distrust in the election process the more that it challenges the fundamentals of democracy itself."
The governor said the legislation will target attempts to allow people to vote in unauthorized ways, such as through the expansion of mail-in voting or through curbside/drive-through voting. Both methods were rolled out in Harris County in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic when many Texans expressed concerns about going inside polling places.
Abbott said the state legislature must now pass laws to prevent election officials from jeopardizing the election process through the unauthorized expansion of mail-in ballots and through the unauthorized expansion of drive-through voting.
"Any voter fraud that takes place sows seeds of distrust in the election process. The more distrust in the election process the more that it challenges the fundamentals of democracy itself," Abbott said. "There is an obligation … that we remove that distrust by ensuring that we do all we can to ensure that every eligible voter will be able to cast a vote but no one will be able to cast an illegal vote."
Bettencourt, Cain and Abbott also said they wanted to push for a uniform set of standards around early voting, giving equal access to polling places in both rural and urban counties.
"Uniformity, transparency, consistency, wherever voters are they should be having the same access to that type of voting activity for early voting," Bettencourt said.
During his state of the state address earlier this month, Abbott said he didn't believe an election integrity bill was controversial and that all voters, Republicans, Democrats and Independents, should be able to have confidence in the outcome of elections.
Texas Democrats held a news conference Monday afternoon to respond to the governor's announcement, often repeating the message that legislators should be making it easier for people to vote and not make it harder while refuting claims of widespread voter fraud through the mail.
State Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie, District 101), said efforts to make it more difficult for Texans to cast a ballot is an assault on voters.
"Instead of telling Texans these irrefutable truths, that our elections are safe, secure and free, the governor instead chooses to fan the flames of conspiracy theories by entangling Texans in this national Republican strategy to make it harder for Americans to vote," Turner said.
Turner added that election integrity also means leaders must respect the results of an election when things don't go their way.
"If Gov. Abbott wants to talk about election integrity he should start with this, when the voters have spoken, respect the results," Turner said. "Election integrity means allowing all eligible voters to vote and not erecting barriers to that fundamental right. Texas has a long and shameful history of enacting barriers to the ballot box especially for Texans of color."
To show voter integrity is a nonpartisan issue with bipartisan support, Abbott referenced a voter fraud case prosecuted in Harris County during the Obama Administration. Turner said citing that case only proves that the existing laws work.
"That example proves we have laws on the books to prosecute real voter fraud," Turner said. "The Republicans, Gov. Abbott, Donald Trump and others, have yet to prove why we need more laws or why we need new laws because they can't prove that fraud exists, just as Sen. Johnson and many others have said today. So the idea that this is bipartisan is farfetched."
Johnson added that data from other states that allow more widespread mail-in voting showed no overwhelming favoritism toward either party.
"Statistical analysis done at other states has found no partisan favor as a result of switching to a universal mail-in ballot, not Republican, not Democrat, so there really shouldn't be a reason to oppose this as it increases voter turnout, it doesn't cast any favoritism and it's cheaper," Johnson said.
Following the governor's speech Monday, MOVE Texas, a nonpartisan nonprofit whose self-described aim is to increase participation in local and state elections, said the 2020 elections were one of the safest and most secure in the state's history and that it was due, "in no small part to expansions of vote-by-mail, early voting and secure ballot drop-boxes—Gov. Abbott is attempting to restrict these common-sense measures under the false premise of ‘election integrity.’ Let’s be clear here: there are no widespread cases of voter fraud. That is a fact. Period."
“Let me be clear, MOVE Texas supports authentic reforms to improve
election security; reforms like automatic voter registration and online voter
registration that have been proven to shore up election security in other
states while at the same time broadening access to all eligible voters," said Charlie Bonner, MOVE Texas spokesman. "Texas ranked 44th in voter participation in 2020. We should be working together to make voting in the state easier and more convenient for Texans, not even harder and more confusing."
Last November, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick (R) offered up to $1 million in defense of President Donald Trump’s unsupported claims of irregularities in the U.S. presidential election, saying he would pay rewards for information that leads to voter fraud arrests and convictions.
To date, Patrick hasn't announced making any payments for proof of fraud.