Explainer: How Texas Republicans Aim To Make Voting More Difficult
Texas has taken a milestone to become the largest state in the country where the GOP makes it harder to vote after the 2020 election, with Senate approval on Sunday of a bill that would empower poll observers, would create criminal penalties and add new restrictions on where, when and how to vote.
Supporters say the changes would disproportionately affect minorities and people with disabilities.
The legislation still has two steps left before it becomes law in Texas: a final approval vote in the GOP-controlled House, which was due Sunday and would send the bill to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to approve.
America’s largest red state already has some of the tightest voting restrictions in the country and is regularly cited by non-partisan groups as a state where voting is particularly difficult. It was one of the few states that did not facilitate postal voting during the coronavirus pandemic, instead sending crowds of voters to the polls to vote in person.
Senate approval of the sweeping legislation took place at 6 a.m. on Sunday, hours after a final version of the 67-page bill was pulled out of private negotiations on Saturday. Democrats asked republicans about the legislation for eight hours in their final attempts to prevent the changes from becoming law.
The timing leaves little time for the public to consider – or protest – the overhaul over Memorial Day weekend, and the legislative session ends with law on Monday.
So what is included in the planned changes and how did they come about? Here are some details:
What the legislation means for voters and election officials
GOP legislation – known as Senate Bill 7 – proposes to reduce early voting, ban drive-thru voting, and make it a crime for elected officials to send out requests to vote by unsolicited correspondence to voters in Texas. Harris County – which includes Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city and a Democratic stronghold – introduced drive-thru voting for the November election, but courts have barred election officials from sending mail-in ballot requests to all registered voters.
The final wording of the legislation also adds a voter identification requirement to postal ballot requests, requiring voters to submit a driver’s license or social security number.
Early voting on Sunday also couldn’t begin until 1 p.m., which Democrats said would reduce turnout among black worshipers who voted after morning services in “souls at the polls” efforts.
Additionally, the bill would require people who assist voters to disclose their relationship to the voter, whether they were paid to help and if the voter is eligible for assistance and could be convicted of a crime. state prison for violations.
But partisan observers – who seek to voice their concerns to their political party – would have more access, and election workers could be charged with a felony if they blocked the view of a poll observer.
“This is a solution in search of a problem,” said Democratic state representative Nicole Collier, chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. “I don’t know what they’re trying to answer. They won the election; I do not know where electoral fraud occurs. “
The response from Republican State Representative Briscoe Cain, one of the main sponsors of the bills: “We don’t need to wait for bad things to happen to protect election security.”
How the legislation was born
Republican lawmakers in Texas are looking to add restrictions similar to those their GOP colleagues in Florida, Georgia and Arizona have passed by using former President Trump’s bogus election fraud allegations to justify new rules on behalf of electoral security. (Election experts say election fraud is extremely rare.)
In Texas, the GOP has insisted the changes are needed to restore confidence in the voting process, not a response to Trump’s unsubstantiated claims. Texas Republicans continued to see their margins shrink in November, but still won the ballot.
Originally, GOP members from each chamber submitted their own omnibus voting legislation just before the state filing deadline. Sunday’s combined legislation added 12 more pages of new restrictions. The latest version also removed language that would allow election officials to remove election observers if they breach the peace.
What are the concerns about transparency
The final version of the bill was chopped behind closed doors by a bipartisan committee of 10 MPs from both chambers before being sent to the Plenary Chamber and Senate for final votes. Known as the conference committee, the panel is predominantly Republican, so the party that proposed the restrictions has remained in control.
Voting rights advocates were alarmed that the committee was meeting without making its negotiations public. And some Democratic committee members said they had little or no input on the final content of the bill.