Many Americans are wondering if their votes will be counted as we approach the next election cycle.
Given the high stakes of any election, how can Americans be sure that their votes are actually counted and that their elections will be free and fair?
Chad Ennis, director of the Forensic Audit Division with the Texas Secretary of State’s office and former senior fellow for the Election Protection Project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, was instrumental in getting his state to take steps toward securing the election process.
“I really feel like Texas has been a leader in all kinds of voting,” he says. “We were one of the first states to have early voting, but we’ve always been very keen on keeping the security in place.”
Ennis joins the program to discuss the steps Texas took for its election security and offer some advice on what other states can do to ensure theirs.
Listen to the podcast below, or read the lightly edited transcript.
Doug Blair: My guest today is Chad Ennis, director of the Forensic Audit Division with the Texas Secretary of State’s office and former senior fellow for the Election Protection Project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Chad, welcome on the show.
Chad EnnisYes, it’s great to have you here.
Blair: Excellent. Well, we’re very happy to have you here to talk about an issue that is on most Americans’ minds right now, which is election integrity.
So Texas ranks pretty consistently high on Heritage’s Election Integrity Scorecard for having these really effective and safe ways to vote. One vote equals one vote.
How did these things happen? What do you think is necessary to maintain that strong election integrity?
Ennis:Over the years, our Legislature has been proactive. Texas has been a leader for all types of voting. We were one of the first states to have early voting, but we’ve always been very keen on keeping the security in place.
And whether it be photo ID when you vote—here in the last legislative session, we moved to some type, a weaker form, but at least a form of ID for mail-in ballots, because that’s where things get hairy.
So we’ve tried to be a leader in that and I think Texas has done a pretty good job.
Blair: Recently, some of those policies, including mail-in voting and the ones you mentioned, have been scrutinized. So is it that those policies themselves are problematic or is it they’re not implemented correctly?
Ennis: Mail-in ballot’s an interesting thing. In this day and age, I think it’s necessary because we have so many people that are homebound and just can’t get to the polls.
So it’s something we need to do, but you want to make it as similar to the in-person voting experience as you can. And that’s where Texas has tried to lead in requiring your driver’s license number, the last four of your Social Security number on your application to at least provide some level of that in-person voting experience to the folks.
So I don’t think mail-in voting is inherently bad. It should be done properly.
Blair: Sure. Blair: Sure. Texas has many different communities. It also has a large Latino community. These policies are often criticized by the left as discriminatory. Did you find anything in Texas that restricted the ability of certain groups to vote?
Ennis:We haven’t seen any of it. All age groups continue to increase their participation. It’s just a myth.
Everyone should have an ID. We can help you get one if you don’t have one. If there’s a reason you can’t get one, we’ve got a form for that.
We want to find out who you are. I think the public wants to know that the person on the voter roll is the person who’s voting. An ID is the only way to do this.
Blair: Has Texas experienced widespread voter fraud? Blair: Has Texas ever been the victim of widespread voter fraud? If so, how did it handle it?
Ennis: Well, I love that term, “widespread.” That’s the one the left always uses to say, “Well, there’s no widespread voter fraud.” And I don’t know what that means because … Texas is a big state. We’ve got voter fraud in East Texas. We’ve got voter fraud in West Texas, South Texas. We’ve got cases everywhere.
Take a look at [The Heritage Foundation’s] Hans von Spakovsky’s tracker where he tracks all the cases throughout the country, you see they’re all over the place.
So widespread, I don’t really know what that means, but we’ve got fraud.
Just a few months ago, we had a case in Victoria, Texas. This was in a race decided, I believe, by less than ten votes. And she was charged for 12 counts of voter fraud. Yeah. These things are important. So fraud is a problem. We’re trying to root it out.
I think another interesting thing you see is the Texas Legislature—well, the Texas Attorney General’s Office has had an integrity unit for years and years. Over time, the staffing has fluctuated. You’ll get a prosecutor, you’ll get two. Then one will leave and then you’ll get another one.
And what you’ll see, you can track prosecutions almost directly to the number of prosecutors you have. These lines are parallel when graphed. So that tells me that it’s more of a resource problem in rooting it out more than it’s not there.
Blair: So it’s less of an actual policy problem than it is just having the staff to deal with the issue?
Ennis: Yeah. People take that for granted. I think we need a better explanation of these difficult cases. They’re sophisticated white-collar cases. … And the evidence is secret, right? We have a secret vote.
So you’ve really got to catch somebody with their hand in the cookie jar. You’ve got to really dig into the documents to root these things out.
They’re really hard and intensive to prosecute. So it’s not like an assault case where you’ve got someone who was punched in the face and say, “That’s who punched me in the face.” It’s, well, we see some irregularities. Now, we have to dig in and find it. So they’re hard cases.
Blair: Definitely. Blair: Yes. [Foundation]. Can you tell us a bit about this project?
Ennis:We were there to help the Legislature with research and all other things necessary to get bills passed with increased integrity.
We accomplished a lot in this session. I think not only did SB 1, the big one we’ve all heard about that caused the Democrats to walk out, but we also passed another, I think 23 or so, plus or minus, election bills that session. So we were very active in tweaking and improving the election code.
And really our job there was, here’s a problem we see, here’s a way you can fix it. And get them the data they need to make good policies.
Blair: And we’ve seen that those policies have panned out?
Ennis:Those policies have worked out well. There were some learning curves. Since we had to take multiple sessions in order to pass the bill it took quite a bit of time to implement. And in some of the early primaries, we had some numbers in rejected mail-in ballots that we didn’t see, but those numbers have plummeted since.
And it’s getting better. People are becoming more used to it. And I think we’ve really strengthened integrity. Part of that bill was also the creation of my position. That was also included.
Blair: This is a clear indication that there are two types elections in this country. There’s the state-level elections for your local legislator, city council, for example. And then there’s the federal election for a president or a senator.
How should conservatives decide where reform on election matters takes place at the state and federal levels? These are bills that Democrats want to pass at the federal to allow for the federal control of elections. How should conservatives react to that?
Ennis: State level? Simple answer. Simple answer.
Ennis:It’s simple, easy, and easy to answer. This is true in Texas. I discuss it at a more micro-level. But it’s a strength of the system that we’ve got 50, 51 jurisdictions holding different elections in different ways.
There are many types of voting machines and systems in use across the country, making it very difficult to steal an electoral vote. It is not impossible, but it is very difficult.
Thinking about Texas itself, we’ve got 254 counties all doing it their own way. We’ve got guidance from the Legislature, but they implement it completely different. Good luck. Good luck.
Dallas is very different from Harris County, which is Houston. It is distinct from Fort Worth and San Antonio.
It is hard. And that’s a feature, and we need to keep it that way.
But I also think that, just the conservative inkling in me, anytime you try to federalize something that’s really a local activity, it’s a bad idea. The people in Washington don’t know about how difficult it is to vote.
It’s interesting, I was talking to someone about elections in Hawaii. It’s a nightmare! There are many islands. That’s the one thing we don’t have, except maybe Galveston. In Texas, we don’t have these islands like that. That’s a different beast. States need to be flexible in order to do it right.
Blair: Sure. Well, I want to actually follow up on something you said at the top, which is, it’s not impossible to steal an election, but there are certain things. There are Americans questioning the integrity and legitimacy of the 2020 election. It is concerning that so many people believe they have the ability to make that happen, regardless of whether or not this is the case.
How can conservatives push for policies that guarantee people can be confident in an election’s outcome?
Ennis: Yeah. I believe we should do an audit, just like Texas. Take a look.
I just had a speech on Tuesday morning raising these same things that you’ve said. I mean, we’ve got a crisis in confidence in our elections.
There’s a poll from the, I think it was in the New York Post, I’m not sure who did it, but it said 51% believe that U.S. democracy is at threat of extinction. Fifty-one percent—that’s a bad number. It was 49% and Republicans were 49%. Independents were 54%, while Democrats were 49%. This is bipartisan.
I believe the best thing we could do is open our books and share our work. And that’s what we need to be doing. And that’s what the audits that I’m running are all about. These audits should be done by more states.
Blair: Right. How do we feel about our election integrity system going into the midterm elections? Is it doing well and this is just conjured up and we shouldn’t be feeling this way, or are there real concerns of us having these issues?
Ennis:The public has many concerns. And so it’s a problem because the voters—we the people. We must do a better job.
However, states are taking an active role. States have been conducting audits and states have been improving their rules.
I mean, some states still don’t have ID, which is crazy. Some states simply mail ballots to hundreds, thousands, or millions of people. This is frightening. I think the states are doing their jobs. Let them do their work. We must be patient and keep working.
Blair: So, to play devil’s advocate for a second, there are states that need to improve on this, right? This almost lends itself to the idea that if an election affects the entire country, why aren’t we saying that there should some standard to follow?
I wonder what the answer is to the argument that there are some states that do bad things with their elections. Why shouldn’t somebody up at the top handle that?
Ennis: Well, I think in many cases we’ve seen, especially at the federal level, that enforcement—states are going to do what they want anyway. And states that believe in this stuff are going to do a good job, and states that want to be a little looser aren’t.
As far as I’m concerned, I can look at Texas and what we do and be pretty proud. But I think the Heritage scorecard will show you that many states don’t have the same ideas as we do, which that’s federalism, right? That’s federalism.
Blair: Sure. You mean, my home state of Oregon is one of those states that ranks very low on that scorecard. They have all these election measures that are prime for fraud. And when we look at how Oregon approaches an election versus how Texas approaches an election, it does seem like there’s a consistent pattern by which blue states tend to have these policies that red states don’t.
Is there any way for states who do have good election integrity measures in place to start to disperse and disseminate those policies to other states that don’t?
Ennis: Yeah. I think we should be proud of what we do. We cannot accept that our mission is to disenfranchise. We need to push back on that hard because it’s not.
… Look, as I said earlier, faith in elections is a bipartisan problem. Interestingly, if you look at polling, .. it’s not disfaith, but lack of faith in elections. We are now. I found the word. 2016 was the high point. 2016 was the year of the greatest distrust in the election. That’s one that Republicans won.
This must come from the ground. We must convince the people in the blue states that this is good news for them just as we do with any other policy issue. And it’s on us to convince. And it’s on us to show, here are the policies, here are why we want to do this policy, and here’s the effect of this policy—with data and facts, not emotion and those things.
Blair: Facts don’t care about your feelings.
Ennis: Facts don’t care about your feelings.
Blair: As Ben Shapiro likes to say.
Ennis:It is a well-known fact that yes.
Blair: Well, on that note then, are there any policies that we’ve seen have bipartisan support where you can say, “Democrats, Republicans, independents all agree on this, let’s just get this done”?
Ennis: There’s not a lot right now. It’s become too polar, I think. It’s one of those issues that have just become—both sides are entrenched. I hope that we can quickly end this. And so I’m hopeful, always.
And I think a lot of times what you see is that behind the scenes, the political talk is so toxic right now that you can get feedback behind the scenes from people who you wouldn’t think on your team, “Hey, maybe I should add this to the bill because it’d be good policy.” And we’re seeing this in our district.
So I do think it’s not as bad, polarized as people think, but having folks go on record, unfortunately, has become very hard.
Blair: So it’s more difficult because it’s out in the open or is it more that just—
Ennis: I think elections and election laws are now—it’s too polar. It’s become a litmus test. It’s this bill has to do with election integrity, therefore, all Republicans have to be for it. It is therefore necessary that all Democrats oppose it, regardless what its contents. And that’s a shame.
I will admit that this is a slight misinterpretation. We passed some pretty good bipartisan bills during the Texas Legislature’s last session, cleaning things up in the code, making things more streamlined.
Sometimes we saw a barrier that—I’m trying to think of a good example right now. However, there were many bills that got bipartisan support. So I don’t want it to be all doom and gloom.
It becomes a polar topic and a litmus-test if it is tagged with election integrity. And we’ve got to get away from that. And we need to, on the right, need to look at some of the Democrat ideas and say, “Hey, that’s a good idea. We can do that.” And vice versa.
Blair: Right. I guess I’m curious because you mentioned that in 2016, that was the height of distrust in the electoral process, but that couldn’t have been when it started. Is that where we saw it develop?
Ennis: I would love the opportunity to show you. We’re on the radio, though, so I can’t. A beautiful chart that—
Blair: Wow! Take a look at this chart!
Ennis: Yeah. Take a look at this chart. We’re looking at this, it’s great. It was really that simple. You saw faith in the election and it flipped in, I think, 2010. Now, why that was the inflection point, I’m not quite sure. But this isn’t that old.
You see, the 2000 election was a hotly contested one on the integrity side. And then actually in 2004, you saw headlines that—and this will sound familiar—that Ohio was hacked and stolen. Those headlines came from the left in 2004.
So I think things have been teetering and we’ve just hit the inflection point. That would be like an Al Gore chart. It’s where we reach the inflection point and then roll over. People are suddenly attuned to this, and I believe people on both sides are.
Right now we’ve got, the Republicans are, “More election integrity.” And Democrats are, “Everything’s fine.” But we’ll see what happens after ’22. Maybe that narrative will change.
Blair: Sure. As we begin to wrap-up here, I am always curious if there’s a way that the average citizen is able to make an impact on this. … My gut instinct is to say it’s a lot more difficult for the average citizen to push for voting integrity measures. But maybe I’m wrong.
Ennis: You are.
Ennis: I disagree. Signing up to become a poll worker is the best thing you can do. There’s a critical need for poll workers. If you believe in the integrity and fairness of elections, then be there on Election Day to check IDs, check in people, and hand them their ballot. It would be a great help. There’s a constant need for those.
If you can’t do that, sometimes that’s a bigger time commitment, sign up to be a poll watcher. I’d rather have poll workers than poll watchers because if I got someone sitting in the chair, that’s pretty good. I don’t need a watcher as much.
Both of these things are vital. It is possible to get involved in almost every state.
It’s a time commitment. It is. That’s why we see most of our poll workers are over 70 and retired. Talk to your company. Maybe they’ll let you take a day off and be a poll worker. And it’s a great civic duty. I think it’s just as important as jury duty. That is the best thing you can do.
Blair: Definitely. I stand corrected. It is amazing. All right. Thank you very much. That was Chad Ennis, director of the Forensic Audit Division with the Texas Secretary of State’s office and former senior fellow for the Election Protection Project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Chad, we are very grateful for your time.
Ennis: Thank you.
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