AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will allow legislators or members of the public to get copies of anonymous voted ballots through a formal process, according to an opinion issued last Wednesday.

Paxton said in a release this “establishes a crucial new tool in the fight for free and fair elections” in the state.

The opinion comes in response to a question from State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-Fort Worth, and State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Arlington, asking “whether a legislator or a member of the public may inspect or obtain copies of anonymous voted ballots,” so lawmakers can audit the results of Texas elections.

Paxton explains anonymous voted ballots are ballots that have any identifiable information about a voter redacted. His opinion establishes these ballots “are election records under the Election Code, and the Legislature has established procedures aimed at both preserving those records and granting public access to them.”

The opinion further explains Election Code requires anonymous ballots to be held in a locked box for a 22-month preservation period, with entry only allowed by the Election Code, but the Code also says the ballots are public information and an election records custodian is required to make the information available to the public.

Paxton says by requiring public access, entry into the locked ballot box during the 22-month period is authorized, so members of the public and lawmakers “may inspect or obtain copies of anonymous voted ballots” during that time period.

Paxton wrote in the opinion the Election Code allows the Secretary of State and election records custodians to develop protocols to both preserve ballots and voters’ identities and give public access to the records.

“The people of Texas deserve to have leaders who work tirelessly to promote transparency in government and integrity in our elections, and that’s exactly what I continue to do,” said Paxton said in a press release. “This opinion will help create new processes that can be used to verify our elections have been conducted fairly and without any fraud. My office continues to lead from the front in the battle for election integrity, and we won’t back down until our elections are completely and totally secure.”