“How Texas’ push for election transparency undermines the secret ballot”

Votebeat and the Texas Tribune:

Texas’ efforts to make elections more transparent allows the public — in limited instances — to pierce the anonymity of the ballot and find out how people voted, undermining the secrecy essential to free elections.

The choices voters make in the private voting booth can later be identified in some cases using public, legally available records, a review by Votebeat and The Texas Tribune found.

Since 2020, requests for such records have skyrocketed, fueled by unsubstantiated concerns about widespread voter fraud, and Texas lawmakers have supported changes to make election records easier to access soon after elections.

County elections administrators, trying to fulfill activists’ demands for transparency, have also made information public that can make it easier to determine how specific people voted.

An effort to link a voter to specific ballot choices is more likely to succeed in circumstances involving less populous counties, small precincts, and low-turnout elections….

Votebeat and the Tribune were able to verify and replicate a series of steps to identify a specific person’s ballot choices using public records. But to protect the secrecy of the ballot, the two news outlets are not detailing the precise information needed or the process used to match ballot images with individual voters.

Election administration experts and voter advocates say Texas lawmakers need to find a better balance between transparency and voters’ ballot privacy — and clarify the roles county elections administrators and the Secretary of State’s office play in getting there.

“If we don’t share this information, we’re not able to determine whether or not the ballot is secure,” said Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University and an election administration expert. “On the other hand, if people think that these are things that shouldn’t be shared, then their confidence goes down.”…

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