Watch CBS News

The rare circumstances your ballot may not be a secret in Texas

The rare circumstances your ballot may not be a secret In Texas
The rare circumstances your ballot may not be a secret In Texas 01:59

Just how secret is your ballot in Texas?

It's a question that's been asked recently at the Texas Capitol.

While Texas voters have the Constitutional right to a secret ballot, experts say there are rare circumstances in which the public may be able to figure out how you or someone else voted.

This is being discussed after a conservative outlet called Current Revolt published what it said was now former Texas Republican Party Chair Matt Rinaldi's actual ballot.

Rinaldi hasn't spoken about this and declined comment to CBS News Texas.

This came up in the House Elections Committee hearing this week.

Heather Hawthorne, representing the County and District Clerks' Association of Texas told House members this is a legitimate problem. 

"Ballot secrecy. It's real," Hawthorne said. "Obviously we need to fix it. That balance that we have sought between transparency and secrecy has now come to a head."

It's come to a head because Texas is very transparent about its elections, and last year, lawmakers passed a bill to release even more information publicly.

What you may not realize is that images of ballots are public information.

A state Senator asked the state's top elections official about this at a separate hearing May 29.

"Is that ballot image, is that record of that ballot publicly available?" said Christina Adkins, director of elections at the Texas Secretary of State's Office. "The answer to that is, yes right now, it is currently available, with some restrictions."

While someone can't ask for your ballot specifically, Adkins told Senators late last month that what also is public information is who voted, where they live, where their voting precinct is, and where they actually voted.

In many counties in Texas, people can vote early and on election day anywhere in their counties, not just in their home precinct.

Experts say in rare cases, especially in smaller counties and in small turnout elections, people can use the process of elimination to figure out how someone voted and request the images of the ballots.

For example, if you live in Dallas but voted in Rowlett, that is tracked.

If you're the only one who did during an election, your ballot could be identified.

In another example, if you're one of only a few who voted in a precinct, and everyone voted the same way for a particular race, people can figure out how you voted.

So what's the solution?

Ten days ago, the Secretary of State's Office and Attorney General's Office told county elections officials they needed to redact personally identifiable information on ballots.

Adkins told Senators a recent opinion from the Attorney General's Office spelled this out. 

"The last two lines make it very clear that election officials have the ability to redact any information, any personally identifiable information, not just on a ballot but in an election record, that can tie that voter back to their vote."

Since all this became public, one short-term solution is that counties will no longer release where you actually voted.
Experts say that will make it more difficult to track how you voted and your ballot.

Adkins also suggested elections administrators could also take results in low turnout voter precincts and combine them with results from larger precincts.

Lawmakers could also decide to make it illegal for people to reveal how you voted.

It's not against the law now, but it is illegal for your employer or anyone else to bribe you or punish you for the way you vote.

Watch Eye On Politics 7:30 a.m. Sunday ON AIR and streaming

Follow Jack on X: @cbs11jack  

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.