ELECTION INTEGRITYVoter Advocacy Groups Ask Feds to Step in After Texas Allowed Some Voters’ Ballots to Be Identified

By Natalia Contreras

Published 14 June 2024

The request comes as state and local officials undermined ballot secrecy in their bids for election transparency. After Texas lawmakers changed several laws to increase transparency, researchers demonstrated that the secret choices voters make in the voting booth can be identified using public, legally available records.

A coalition of watchdog and voter advocacy groups asked the U.S. Department of Justice  to use “all available legal authorities” to protect the secrecy of ballots after Votebeat and The Texas Tribune confirmed that the private choices some voters make in the voting booth can in some instances be identified using public, legally available records.

The two news organizations reported on the limited ability to identify how some people vote after an independent news site published what it said was the image of the ballot a former state GOP chair cast in the March 5 Republican primary.

The League of Women Voters of Texas, American Oversight, the Campaign Legal Center, and

Southern Coalition for Social Justice cited the investigation by Votebeat and The Tribune that replicated a series of steps that could identify a specific person’s ballot choices using public records. The outlets did not detail the precise information or process needed to do so.

The advocacy groups said the ability to identify how people vote could lead to voter intimidation.

“Texans should not have to fear that their right to a secret ballot can be compromised, nor should they have to fear any other adverse consequences flowing from the compromise of that right—such as exposure of the ballot being wielded to threaten or intimidate them and their loved ones,” the groups wrote in the letter, addressed to Tamar Hagler, the chief of the voting section of the the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

The groups’ request to the Justice Department comes a week after the Texas Secretary of State’s Office issued emergency guidance to local election officials, telling them, among other things, to “redact any information on the precinct election records or on the ballot image that identifies the location at which a voter voted.”

Secretary of State Jane Nelson’s office had been aware that publicly available information could be used to link a particular ballot to the voter who cast it, but didn’t issue the guidance on how to protect ballot privacy until after the two outlets reported on the situation.

Texas lawmakers and county election officials have made election records easier to access in recent years, citing the need for election transparency as conspiracy theories about the outcome of the November 2020 election took hold in the state.