First of all, best wishes to Ms. Trautman. You hate to see anyone abruptly resign for health wishes, and hopefully she is able to have success in her future endeavors. The abrupt resignation, however, raises significant concern for the integrity of the upcoming general election. Two events have occurred in a short time frame to give pause as to the integrity of the upcoming election.
First,an allegation of ballot harvesting that has been occurring in Harris County was deemed sufficiently credible that an investigation is occurring. Holly Hansen of the Texan has a great piece explaining the harvesting. Second, the Commissioner’s Court allocated $12 million to send mail in ballots. According to the Chronicle, this amount is enough to, “send a mail-in ballot to every registered voter in the county.” This is extremely troubling in that it disregards the criteria for voting by mail. According to the Secretary of State a a voter may vote by mail, “if a voter will be 65 years of age or older on Election Day, has a disability, or will be outside the county during early voting hours and on Election Day, the voter can apply to vote by mail.” The blatant disregard for the criteria for voting by mail along with the credible allegation of ballot harvesting appears to place the integrity of the election in jeopardy.
This brings us to Ms. Trautman’s abrupt resignation. Attorney General Paxton issued guidance noting the election code requires someone to actually be sick or disabled in order to be eligible for a mail in ballot, and noted a third party inappropriately encouraging mail-in ballots, “could subject those third parties to criminal sanctions imposed by Election Code section 84.0041.” Subsequent to this guidance release Ms. Trautman indicated she was not going to abide by the Commissioner’s Court’s plans to expand mail-in balloting, and then she very abruptly resigned in the aftermath of the declaration she was not going to comply to the Commissioner’s Court’s wishes. The timing seems very suspicious.
With the Commissioner’s Court voting along party lines to expand mail in balloting, and the Commissioner’s Court getting to appoint the replacement for Ms. Trautman, it is likely that they will select someone who will abide by their mail-in ballot plan. Since ballot harvesting is already occurring, and the Commissioner’s Court is apparently willing to risk criminal sanctions to implement their mail-in balloting scheme, it is an open question if the general election will be conducted in a manner to protect the voting rights of all citizens of Harris County.
The risk to voting rights is substantial, and warrants the Secretary of State to intervene to protect the voters of Harris County. The election code allows for such an intervention as follows:
Sec. 31.005. PROTECTION OF VOTING RIGHTS. (a) The secretary of state may take appropriate action to protect the voting rights of the citizens of this state from abuse by the authorities administering the state’s electoral processes.
(b) If the secretary determines that a person performing official functions in the administration of any part of the electoral processes is exercising the powers vested in that person in a manner that impedes the free exercise of a citizen’s voting rights, the secretary may order the person to correct the offending conduct. If the person fails to comply, the secretary may seek enforcement of the order by a temporary restraining order or a writ of injunction or mandamus obtained through the attorney general.
Acts 1985, 69th Leg., ch. 211, Sec. 1, eff. Jan. 1, 1986.
Regardless of the outcome of the investigation into ballot harvesting the allegations are sufficiently detailed to raise the specter of voting fraud, and if mail-in balloting is expanded the threat of fraud increases. To that end, placing the elections portion of the county clerk’s office into a receivership to administer the election needs to be considered. Investigations into voter fraud take time, and it’s not reasonable to think that the credible sounding allegations of ballot harvesting can be investigated by the general election. With Commissioner’s Court seemingly intent on providing funding to sent the entire registered voter population in the county a mail-in ballot in the face of credible ballot harvesting allegations that’s a recipe for fraud on a grand scale. This is why the election code allows the Secretary of State to protect the voting rights of the citizens of the county.