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Ashcroft defends sweeping Texas voting law, considers it a model for Missouri

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft defended a sweeping Texas election law in court recently, arguing it could be a model for Missouri as session gets underway. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last year legislation that tightened his state’s voting regulations, including by banning most drive-thru voting, prohibiting local election officials from distributing unsolicited mail-in ballot applications, and strengthening mail-in voting rules. Critics, including the state’s Democratic lawmakers, have said the new law is voter suppression. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has sued to block the Texas law, a move Ashcroft said was “partisan” in nature. Ashcroft, an attorney, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas in late December in defense of the law. 

“The most important reason, I think, for me to get involved here is I believe that the state of Missouri knows best how to run the state of Missouri’s elections. If I do not defend the rights of states to run their own elections, then eventually the Department of Justice and the federal government will come and try to take over our elections,” Ashcroft said in an interview. “I think it’s improper that the Department of Justice, for partisan, political purposes, is besmirching the election laws that are duly passed and enacted in the state of Texas.” 

In his amicus brief, Ashcroft said: “The test of our nation’s election system is not found in landslides, but when the outcome turns upon a handful of votes. Vote fraud need not be massive to undermine an election’s outcome. And people are more likely to vote if they believe their ballot will be fairly counted.” 

While Texas’ new law contains a myriad of voting measures, the DOJ focused on two particular provisions in its lawsuit: one which restricts the amount of assistance someone can give a voter with a language deficincy or who is disabled and another which requires certain identification information on mail-in ballots. 

Specifically, the DOJ challenged limitations placed on assistants to just aiding a voter on reading and marking a ballot or directing a voter to read or mark a ballot. The assistant can no longer answer voters’ questions, including who is on a ballot or what their political affiliation is. The assistant must certify he or she did not coerce, encourage, or pressure the voter in any way and will not divulge information to another person about how the voter cast the ballot. 

Additionally, the new law requires early voting clerks to reject ballot applications that do not include the same identification numbers or social security number used on the voter registration application. 

“Laws that impair eligible citizens’ access to the ballot box have no place in our democracy,” said Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “Texas Senate Bill 1’s restrictions on voter assistance at the polls and on which absentee ballots cast by eligible voters can be accepted by election officials are unlawful and indefensible.” 

Ashcroft: Missouri ‘showed rest of country’ how to handle elections

But Ashcroft argued the provisions were efforts to make Texas elections more secure, not disenfranchise legal voters from being able to cast a ballot. 

“We want to make sure that when ballots are cast, they’re cast by that individual voter,” the secretary of state said. “We don’t want people having undue influence over a voter.” 

Missouri Legislature poised to take up election integrity issues 

While election issues are already expected to be a topic of conversation among the Missouri Legislature as session gets underway — especially with redistricting at the forefront — Ashcroft encouraged lawmakers to enact more reforms this session. Specifically, he said Missouri should adopt a similar provision to Texas in requiring additional identifying information “to help prove people are who they say they are when they vote.” 

“It’s simple, it’s common sense, it’s not an obstacle,” Ashcroft said. 

Ashcroft pointed to hand-marked ballots, photo ID requirements, updated voter rolls, and cybersecurity testing at local voting sites as issues he wishes the legislature would tackle during committee hearings ahead of session. Additionally, he would like the secretary of state to be able to audit election results. 

A whole host of election-related legislation, including some mirroring certain parts in the new Texas law, have been pre-filed. Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden said he “absolutely” expects election reform legislation to be brought up this session. 

Several GOP lawmakers had hoped to see a special session called to tackle election integrity and initiative petition issues during the interim, but ultimately lawmakers were not called back to Jefferson City for such a session.