AUSTIN (KXAN) — There is new oversight as of Monday for the upcoming midterm elections in Texas as the Texas Attorney General announced a new 2022 General Election Integrity Team.
Ken Paxton said people can send any reports of alleged violations of the Texas Election Code to a public email address, email@example.com.
In his announcement, the AG’s office listed some of those violations, which include a vote harvester collecting your mail-in ballot or anyone helping you vote suggesting by word, sign or gesture how you should vote.
He said the team consisting of lawyers, investigators and support staff will look at alleged violations of the Texas Election Code to ensure elections are transparent and secure.
But does his office have the power to do that?
No — not unilaterally, according to a recent Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling.
“The courts have already been pretty clear that the Attorney General does not have the power to prosecute these cases, unilaterally. He’s making it sound a bit like he does. And that’s obviously why politics seep into this,” said University of Houston Political Science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus.
Rottinghaus explained local officials, like county district attorneys, would have to prosecute any such voter fraud cases.
“But that doesn’t mean that [Paxton] can’t collect information and serve as a resource for local officials who might ultimately then prosecute these kinds of cases,” he said.
KXAN asked Paxton’s office how it plans to deal with any reports of alleged fraud, given the recent court rulings. We will update this story when we receive a response.
Rottinghaus also said although election integrity is important, voter fraud rarely happens. He said the AG’s move serves more to motivate Republican voters.
“Voter fraud happens, but it’s extremely rare. It’s like getting struck by lightning,” Rottinghaus said. “And although there are big fears out there, especially among Republicans, about how pernicious it is, the reality is that it’s not that massive of an issue in terms of the total number of votes cast.”
That seems to be the experience of Austin early voters Danielle Skidmore and Eve Chenu.
“The process was pretty strictly managed, and you can see like, all of the signs are across the street, and any candidates, right, are across the street. So me, personally, I don’t feel threatened or don’t have any concerns,” said Skidmore, who cast her ballot on Monday evening.
“It always seemed whenever I’ve gone in and voted, which I do every single election, I’ve just never seen anything suspicious,” said Chenu, who also voted Monday evening.
Voter fraud was also not a topic top-of-mind when they headed into polls.
“The mayor’s race is really important, funding for our schools,” Chenu listed.
“The biggest issue for me is affordability, right? How can people afford to live in Austin? That’s something that city council has a lot of control over,” Skidmore said.
Paxton’s office announced a 2021 Election Integrity Unit last year for the same purpose.
KXAN has asked how many reports came into the team last year and what those outcomes were. We will update this story when we hear back.