AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Texas Republicans gathered on Saturday for a final weekend vote on some of the most restrictive new election laws in the United States, finalizing a sweeping bill that would eliminate the drive-thru voting, would empower poll watchers and limit voting on Sundays, when many black worshipers go to the polls.
The changes are expected to be approved before midnight Sunday, when the GOP-controlled legislature ends a session dominated by muscular Republicans with decidedly conservative measures regarding guns, abortion and how race can be taught in schools. public.
But none have sparked a backlash like Senate Bill 7, which Republicans have filled with a series of new voting restrictions that would change the way the country’s largest red state conducts elections. Democrats have virtually no way to stop it from passing, putting Republicans on the verge of a major victory in their national campaign to impose new voting restrictions motivated by false claims by former President Donald Trump according to which the 2020 elections were stolen from him.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will sign the measure, which Democrats have said they will challenge in court.
President Joe Biden issued a statement calling the final form of the Texas bill “bad and anti-American.”
“Today, Texas lawmakers introduced a bill that joins Georgia and Florida in advancing state law that attacks the sacred right to vote. It’s part of an attack on democracy we’ve seen far too often this year – and which often disproportionately targets black and brown Americans, ”Biden said.
The final draft of the bill was drafted behind closed doors by state House and Senate negotiators, almost all Republicans. They have preserved the elimination of 24-hour polling stations and drive-thru voting centers, which Harris County, the state’s largest Democratic stronghold, introduced in an election last year. which recorded a record participation rate.
GOP lawmakers are also set to ban Sunday voting before 1 p.m., in what critics have called an attack on what is commonly referred to as “souls at the polls” – an exit campaign used by politicians. nationwide black religious congregations. The idea dates back to the civil rights movement. Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, said the provision is “clearly intended to limit Sunday voting” and would result in longer lines at polling stations.
Texas is also on the verge of empowering partisan poll observers, allowing them better access inside polling stations and threatening criminal sanctions against election officials who restrict their movement. Republicans had initially offered to give poll watchers the right to take photos, but that language was removed from the final bill that lawmakers were expected to vote on this weekend.
Large companies including American Airlines and Texas-based Dell have warned the measures could hurt democracy and the economic climate. But Republicans have ignored their objections and, in some cases, ripped off business leaders for speaking out.
Leading Republican negotiators, State Senator Bryan Hughes and State Representative Briscoe Cain, called the bill “one of the most comprehensive and sane electoral reform projects” in the government. Texas history.
“Even though the national media downplay the importance of electoral integrity, the Texas legislature has not bowed to headlines or signaling corporate virtue,” they said in a joint statement.
Texas already has some of the toughest voting restrictions in the country and is consistently cited by non-partisan groups as a particularly difficult state to vote. It was one of the few states that did not facilitate postal voting during the pandemic.
It is also the last major battleground in Republicans’ efforts to tighten election laws across the country. Florida, Georgia and Arizona have also approved new voting restrictions in recent months.
Since Trump’s defeat, at least 14 states have enacted more restrictive election laws, according to the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice. He also counted nearly 400 bills introduced nationwide this year that would restrict voting.
Texas Republican lawmakers have insisted the changes are not a response to Trump’s false allegations of widespread fraud, but are necessary to restore confidence in the voting process. But doubts about the election outcome were stoked by some of the state’s top GOP leaders, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, who conducted a failed trial in the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to cancel the elections.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who chaired Trump’s presidential campaign in Texas, offered a million dollar reward to anyone who could produce evidence of electoral fraud. Impartial inquiries into previous elections have revealed that voter fraud is extremely rare. State officials from both sides, including Texas, as well as international observers also said the 2020 election went well.
Associated Press Writer Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.
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