Done Deal: No Public Access to Review of Voting Vendors

By Sonia Santana

The Texas Senate was presented a trojan horse bill in HB2465 last night, and they accepted it. Section 8 barely concealed in the belly of the bill would kill the open public process for vendor certification at the Sectretary of State.

The bill passes the Senate last night on a recorded vote of 31-0. HB2465, authored by Elections Committee Chairwoman Mary Denny (R-Flower Mound), had a carefully worded caption promoting public hearings conducted by the SOS, when in fact the bill does exactly the opposite in closing a process that should be open to the public.

Initially the House bill, was in fact only a requirement for a public hearing, after the examination process, to be conducted by the SOS. Public hearings are great; who would be opposed to a public hearing, right? That was exactly the point of Denny’s strategy. Write a nice little innocuously captioned bill and get all kinds of support for it including the ACLU-TX.

Why was it important for ACLU-TX to be on board supporting the bill? Well because the ACLU-TX and The Electronic Freedom Frontier Foundation (EFF) had sued the Secretary of State last year to open those secret vendor certification meetings, and they had won a temporary injunction in district court.

The Secretary of State and the Texas Attorney General contend that this appointed board of examiners is not subject to the Open Meetings Act because they aren’t a governmental body. District Court Judge Stephen Yelenosky reviewed
the documentation and recorded tapes of those secret meetings and disagreed with the Attorney General. Yelenosky ruled that these meetings were subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act.

When a substitute HB2465 was voted out of the Elections committee, it contained a poisoned pill in Section 8 that reads “An examination conducted or determination made under Chapter 122, Election Code, before or after the amendments made by this Act, was and continues to be not subject to Chapter 551, Government Code.”

That single word “not” in that section has now created a very bad law for Texas voters. Texas voters now do not have the right to substantive review and input into the examination process of our voting systems. You just have to trust the Secretary of State to do the right thing, a sort of “faith based” public policy.

I do encourage Texas voters to come to the next examination hearing. It will be the last time they get to view the examination meeting in an open and transparent process, the way it was supposed to be.

Texas voters may get an interim study for a verified paper ballot trail. That amendment was successfully added to the Senate version of the bill. Hopefully that will be acceptable to the author Mary Denny. [Stay tuned for the date.]

As a footnote Representative Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), authored House bill HB3383 that specifically wrote into our election code the right of the public to view this examination process. That bill was killed in committee by Representative Mary Denny.

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