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How private is your ballot in Texas?

Ballot Secrecy in Texas

How secret is your ballot? This question is gaining attention at the Texas Capitol and across the state. While Texas voters have a constitutional right to a secret ballot, there are rare circumstances where the public might deduce how someone voted.

This issue surfaced after the conservative outlet Current Revolt published what it claimed was the actual ballot of former Texas Republican Party Chair Matt Rinaldi. Rinaldi has not commented on the matter. During a House Elections Committee hearing, a clerk acknowledged this as a legitimate concern. Heather Hawthorne of the County & District Clerks’ Association of Texas remarked, “That balance that we have sought between transparency and secrecy has now come to a head.”

Texas prides itself on election transparency. Last year, a bill was passed to make more election information available to the public. While a person’s ballot is not public information, images of cast ballots are. Additionally, information such as who voted, their residence, voting precinct, and actual voting location is publicly accessible.

In many counties, voters can cast their ballots at any location within their county during early voting and on Election Day. Although one cannot request a specific person’s ballot, it is possible to use publicly available data to deduce how someone voted. For instance, if someone from Dallas voted in Rowlett and they were the only person to do so, their ballot could be identified. Similarly, if few people voted in a precinct and all votes went to one candidate, individual votes could be inferred.

In response, the Secretary of State’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office recently issued statements advising county election officials to redact personally identifiable information on ballots. Officials recommend that election administrators in low-turnout precincts combine their results with those from larger precincts to maintain ballot secrecy.

New Trends in Border Crossings

Federal statistics indicate that the number of migrants crossing illegally into Texas has decreased compared to the other southern border states. Last week, the Texas Senate Border Security Committee discussed this trend during an update on the state’s Operation Lone Star.

Texas Border Czar Mike Banks testified, “You’re seeing cross-border deaths down, you’re seeing the traffic move west because they’re following the path of least resistance.” In December 2022, Texas accounted for 60% of all illegal border crossings at the southern border, or 130,000 migrants. By January this year, that percentage dropped to 29%, or 36,000 migrants.

Operation Lone Star has cost Texas taxpayers $11 billion. Governor Greg Abbott, in a recent CBS News Texas interview, outlined next steps, including adding more miles of razor wire, more walls, and more National Guard troops to prevent illegal entry. Texas has already installed 72 miles of commercial-grade fencing, 133 miles of concertina wire barricade, and 30 miles of anti-climb fencing. The state’s new Forward Operating Base in Eagle Pass will house 1,800 National Guard troops in 95 buildings over an 80-acre site. The first 300 troops moved in on May 31, with another 300 arriving recently. In total, there will be six phases of deployment.

Last week’s border hearing came shortly after President Joe Biden signed an executive order restricting asylum at the southern border.

Increasing Demand for Power in Texas

At another recent hearing at the Texas Capitol, ERCOT informed state senators about the significant expansion needed in megawatts to keep up with growth over the next five years. Currently, ERCOT has a load capacity of 85,000 megawatts. The initial forecast from last year indicated that this would need to grow to 110,000 megawatts. However, ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas presented a new plan projecting a need for 150,000 megawatts.

Vegas explained that the Permian Basin alone accounts for about 24 gigawatts of this growth, equating to the size of the Houston coastal region. This growth is driven by electrification in oil and gas, green hydrogen, data centers, cryptocurrency, and other traditional industrial businesses.

In response, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, in a post on X, labeled Vegas’ comments as “shocking.” Patrick had previously pushed for a constitutional amendment, approved by voters last year, creating the Texas Energy Fund. This fund provides over $7 billion in subsidies for private companies to build new natural gas-powered plants, aiming to generate the additional gigawatts needed. The state has 125 projects worth $39 billion, expected to produce 56 gigawatts, now moving to the formal application phase. Lawmakers may approve another $5 billion in subsidies due to the newly projected growth.

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