Legislative and Campaign Law
By Ross Peavey
The 88th Texas Legislature tackled a number of new policies in the field of legislative and campaign law. This session saw changes to the law regarding campaign finance reporting, the electoral process, and election administration. The session itself kept drafting attorneys in the Texas Legislature busy; the House and Senate filed an unprecedented number of bills and resolutions covering topics from local watermelon festivals to the state budget. A survey of some significant changes in Texas legislative and campaign law in 2023 include the following legislation. All bills are effective September 1, 2023, unless otherwise noted.
Amends elector requirements for presidential elections to address “faithless electors” who might cast Texas’ president and vice president ballots irreconcilable with their party’s nominees and addresses a scenario in which a party’s nominee withdraws, dies, or is declared ineligible within a short time of a presidential election. HB 87 is effective June 18, 2023.
Seeks to accommodate voters with disabilities in a number of new ways. The bill requires an election officer to give voting order priority to individuals with a mobility problem. Under the legislation, all procedures and accommodations available to voters with disabilities must be posted in an accessible manner on the county clerk’s website. Subject to certain requirements under the bill, each polling place is required to reserve a two-space parking area for curbside voting service for a voter who is physically unable to enter the polling place. Moreover, an early voting clerk is required to post the official application form for an early voting ballot on the clerk’s website in a format that allows for easy completion directly on the website before printing. The bill also requires the secretary of state to provide such a printable application form to the early voting clerk, who could use that form or the clerk’s own form. SB 477 is effective June 18, 2023.
Amends current law relating to the interstate voter registration crosscheck program. The Texas Election Code requires the secretary of state to maintain a statewide voter registration list and to prevent duplication of registration in more than one state or jurisdiction. Since 2020 Texas had been a member of the Electronic Registration Information Center, also known as ERIC, a multistate program used to prevent duplication of registration in more than one state or jurisdiction. The new law facilitates Texas’ withdrawal from ERIC and the replacement of ERIC with a new system to review voter rolls.
Changes the law relating to qualifications of a sheriff or a candidate for sheriff. The new requirements include that the candidate must hold an active permanent peace officer license and have at least five years of experience as a full-time paid peace officer or federal special investigator. The bill allows veterans with 10 years combined active duty or national guard service experience, while holding an intermediate, advanced, or master proficiency certificate, the ability to be a candidate for sheriff.
Increases penalties from a Class A misdemeanor to a second-degree felony if a voter knowingly or intentionally does the following: votes or attempts to vote in an election in which the person knows the person is not eligible to vote; votes or attempts to vote more than once in an election; votes or attempts to vote a ballot belonging to another person, or by impersonating another person; marks or attempts to mark any portion of another person’s ballot without the consent of that person, or without specific direction from that person how to mark the ballot; or votes or attempts to vote in an election in this state after voting in another state in an election in which a federal office appears on the ballot and the election day for both states is the same day.
Requires the Texas secretary of state to develop materials for a standardized curriculum for training in election law and procedure, including a published handbook, made available on the secretary of state’s website free of charge. The bill also requires the secretary of state to make the standardized training program available entirely via the internet and at any time, without a requirement for prior registration. The training program must require the passage of an examination at the end and provide an individual who successfully completes the training with a certificate of completion, which expires no later than one year after it was awarded.
Abolishes the position of county elections administrator in a county with a population of more than 3.5 million (such as Harris County) and transfers the administrator’s powers and duties to the county tax assessor-collector and county clerk.
Authorizes the Texas secretary of state’s office, in a county with a population of more than 4 million (such as Harris County), to order administrative oversight of a county office administering elections or voter registration in the county. In order to do so, the secretary of state would need to receive a complaint, provide notice to the county, conduct an investigation, and determine whether to administer such oversight. The law further authorizes the secretary of state’s office to take steps to remove or terminate elections administrators for recurring patterns of problems with election administration. The bill also makes changes regarding required county audits.
Amends current law that only requires certain counties, cities, and school districts to make campaign finance reports publicly accessible on a website and exempts less populous political subdivisions from the accessibility requirement. The law as amended will require any political subdivision that receives campaign finance reports to make the reports publicly available on a website and maintain the reports online for at least five years.
ROSS PEAVEY has worked with businesses, nonprofits, elected officials, and other entities as an attorney and lobbyist for the better part of two decades. He is past chair of the State Bar of Texas Legislative and Campaign Law Section. Peavey is the editor of Texas Senate Practice, which is considered a “core material to supplement current versions of House and Senate Rules” by the Legislative Reference Library of Texas.