On a 5-2 vote, the Senate State Affairs Committee approved a bill that would create new “explanation” and “audit” processes to address “irregularities” in county election administration. Senate Bill 97 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) was filed yesterday (Wednesday), heard in and voted out of committee today (Thursday) and is headed to the Senate floor with three days to go in the special session.

The bill would require county clerks to provide an “explanation and any supporting documentation” to certain people who submit a written request. Requestors could be candidates, county chairs, presiding and alternate presiding election judges or, in the case of a ballot measure, the head of a campaign committee supporting or opposing it. If the requestor is “not satisfied” with the response they get, they may request “further explanation” from the county clerk. Clerks have 20 and 10 days, respectively, to provide “the requested explanation and any supporting documentation.”

A person who is still “not satisfied” can request the Secretary of State for “an audit of the issue.” The Secretary of State has 30 days to decide if the county clerk’s response “sufficiently explains the irregularity.” If it does not, the Secretary of State “shall immediately begin an audit of the identified irregularity at the expense of the county.” After its “audit,” the Secretary of State can issue civil penalties to the county clerk if an Election Code violation found by the “audit” is not remedied within 30 days. This “audit” process – like the processes in other bills seeking “audits” of election results – is not defined by the bill and left up to the auditors.

The bill would also require a “review of results of 2020 general election for state and county officers.”

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