By Lily Pennock
In August of 2022, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released a legal opinion stating that anyone in the public can request and access to ballot information nearly immediately post-election. His opinion stemmed from former president Donald Trump’s expressed skepticism toward election integrity in 2020.
According to both State of Texas and Federal law, cast ballots must be kept secure for twenty-two months after an election. Paxton’s controversial opinion does not have the force of law, so counties in Texas are not legally bound to act in accordance. Nonetheless, three Texas counties, Tarrant, Williamson, and Harris, have filed lawsuits against Paxton, and are requesting a judge’s opinion on his statement.
The reason for this lawsuit is because Paxton’s statement has led to more confusion than clarity.
The counties’ conflict stems from not knowing what course of action to follow – do they preserve the ballots or release them through public information requests? This conflict is what provides the basis of their litigation. If counties comply with Paxton’s opinion, releasing voter ballots immediately, they face not only the risk of misplacing and jeopardized ballots, but also risk of being charged with violation of state and federal law. However, if they refuse to release ballots, following the state election code, the attorney general’s office could likely sue the counties.
These Texas counties hope that their lawsuits will bring in the opinion of a judge, so that they may discredit Paxton’s opinion, as well as give Texas counties clarity on how to proceed with the influx of voter ballot requests.
Many legal experts have criticized Paxton for the chaos that his opinion has created, especially with the upcoming November 2022 midterms coming so soon after the release of his opinion in August. Paxton’s opinion caused lots of ambiguity and confusion surrounding public information requests and the election processes, exacerbated by the public’s skepticism toward voter and election integrity, thus leading to less trust in the election process than before.