As we approach the next election cycle, many Americans wonder whether or not their votes will count.
But given the incredibly high stakes in any election, how can Americans know that their votes actually matter and that their elections are 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 show to discuss the steps Texas took to secure its elections and offer some guidance on what other states should do to secure 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 to the show.
Chad Ennis: Yeah, great to be 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. It means that one vote means one vote.
How did some of those things get into place? And what do you see is essential to maintaining that status of having strong election integrity measures?
Ennis: Our Legislature has been really proactive over the years. I really feel like Texas has been a leader in all kinds 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: Some of those policies, like you mentioned, mail-in voting, have come under scrutiny in recent years. 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 just needs to be done well.
Blair: Sure. Now, the other thing that we just discussed is voter ID, which is just as contentious as mail-in voting is. So Texas is a state that has quite a few disparate communities. It has a large Latino population as well. And the left will claim often that these types of policies are discriminatory. Have you found in Texas that has affected the ability of some of these groups to access ballots?
Ennis: We have not seen any of that. Turnout continues to rise among all demographics. It’s just a myth.
Frankly, everyone has an ID. And if not, if you need one, we can get you one. If there’s a reason you can’t get one, we’ve got a form for that.
We want to know who you are. I think the public wants to know that the person on the voter roll is the person who’s voting. And the only way we can do that is with an ID.
Blair: Has Texas had any widespread voter fraud? And if it has, how did it deal with 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.
And if you 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.
We just had a case prosecuted in Victoria, Texas, here a month or so ago. That was in a race decided by, I believe, less than 10 votes. And she was charged with 12 counts of voter fraud. Yeah. I mean, these things matter. So we have fraud. 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. And the staffing has fluctuated over time. 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. If you graph them, the lines are parallel. 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. And I think people take for granted, and I think we need to do a better job explaining these are hard cases to prove. They’re sophisticated white-collar cases. … And the evidence is secret, right? We have a secret ballot.
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 got to dig in and find it. So they’re hard cases.
Blair: Definitely. As we mentioned at the top, you were working on the Election Protection Project during your time at the Texas Public Policy [Foundation]. Can you tell me a little bit about what that project entailed?
Ennis: We were really there to help support the Legislature with research and all those kind of things to get bills passed that increased integrity.
And we did a lot in the last 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 on tweaking the election code.
And really our job there was, here’s a problem we see, here’s a way you can fix it. And really get them the data to make good policy.
Blair: And we’ve seen that those policies have panned out?
Ennis: Those policies have panned out. We had a bit of some growing pains. Frankly, since we had to take multiple sessions to pass the bill, it took a lot of the implementation time off the table. 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. I think people are getting used to it, used to things. And I think we’ve really strengthened integrity. And part of that bill was the creation of my job. So there was that, too.
Blair: So one of the things that, obviously, as we talk about elections, is that there are two sets of 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 stand on the position of where election reform takes place, whether at the state level or at the federal level? Obviously, these bills that the Democrats are pushing at the federal level to put the capacity to control elections at the federal level, how should conservatives respond to that?
Ennis: State level? Easy answer. Easy answer.
Ennis: Easy, easy, easy answer. Look, and this is true in Texas, I talk about this 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 different types of voting systems and machines used throughout the country, makes it really hard to steal an election. Not impossible, but very hard.
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 different than Harris County, which is Houston. It is different than Fort Worth, is different than 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. And think about it, how nightmare that is. You got multiple 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. And states need the flexibility 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 right now who question the integrity of the 2020 election. And regardless of whether or not that is the case, it is somewhat alarming that people feel the capacity exists for that to happen.
How do we, as conservatives, start to push for policy that guarantees people can feel confident in the result of an election?
Ennis: Yeah. I think what we need to do is, like Texas is doing, an audit. And look, 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. And it was 49%, Republicans were 49% on that. Democrats were 49% and independents were 54%. So this is bipartisan.
And I think the biggest thing we can do is open up our books and show our work. And that’s what we need to be doing. And that’s what the audits that I’m running are all about. And I think more states should be doing these.
Blair: Right. Well, going into the midterm elections and then 2024 presidential elections, how do we feel about the health of our election integrity system? 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 certainly has their concerns. And so it’s a problem because the voters—we the people. So we need to do a better job.
But states have been stepping up. States have been doing audits, states have been strengthening their rules.
I mean, some states still don’t have ID, which is crazy. Some states just mail out ballots to hundreds of people, or thousands, millions of people, which is scary. But the states are doing, I think, their work. And I think we need to let them do their work. We need to watch and just keep plugging away at it.
Blair: So, to play devil’s advocate for a second, there are states that need to improve on this, right? So that almost maybe lends itself to the idea, if this is an election that affects the entire nation, why are we not saying that there should be some sort of standard by which we go to?
I guess, what is the response to the argument that, yeah, there are states that are doing bad stuff 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. Well, I mean, one of those states that ranks pretty poorly on that scorecard is my home state, Oregon. And they have all of these election measures, which are ripe 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 mean, I think we need to tout what we do. We need to not accept the narratives that what we do 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. There we go. I got to find the word. The high point of that, though, was 2016. 2016 was off the charts on distrust in the election. That’s one that Republicans won.
So I think it has to come from the ground up. But we need to convince folks in the blue states that this is good for them, just like we do with any 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 is wont to say.
Ennis: Famously said, 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 we can break it soon. 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. And therefore, all the Democrats have to be against it, regardless of what it says. And that’s a shame.
And I take that back a little. 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. But there were several bills that did get bipartisan support. So I don’t want it to be all doom and gloom.
But if you put that tag of election integrity on it, it immediately becomes a polar issue and a litmus test. 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. Where did we see that begin to develop?
Ennis: I would love to show you. We’re on the radio, though, so I can’t. A beautiful chart that—
Blair: Wow! Look at that chart!
Ennis: Yeah. Look at the chart. We’re looking at this, it’s great. But it really, it went from, you saw faith in the elections and it flipped in, I believe, 2010. Now, why that was the inflection point, I’m not quite sure. But this isn’t that old.
I mean, 2000 election was obviously hotly contested on the election integrity end. And then actually in 2004, you saw headlines that—and this will sound familiar—that Ohio was hacked and stolen. And those came from the left that year.
So I think things have been teetering and we’ve just hit the inflection point. I guess that would be an Al Gore chart, where we hit the inflection point and roll over. And people all of a sudden are, and I think people on both sides are, attuned to it.
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. And maybe that narrative flips.
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: No, you are.
Ennis: I disagree. The best thing you can do, folks, is sign up to be a poll worker. There’s a critical need for poll workers. And if you want to believe in the integrity of elections, sit there on Election Day and check IDs, check people in, hand them their ballot. That would be a huge 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.
But both of those things are critical. And almost every state allows citizens to be involved in that process.
It’s a time commitment. It is. That’s why we see most of our poll workers are over 70 and retired. But 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. And that is the best thing that you could do.
Blair: Definitely. Well, I stand happily corrected, which is wonderful. All right. Well, thank you so 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, very much appreciate your time.
Ennis: Thank you.
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