As part of revisions during closed-door negotiations, Republicans added language that could make it easier for a judge to overturn an election and pushed the start of the vote to Sunday, when many black worshipers go to the polls . The 67-page measure would also eliminate drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting centers, both introduced last year by Harris County, the state’s largest Democratic stronghold.
Texas is the latest major battleground in the GOP’s national efforts to tighten election laws, prompted by former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Georgia and Florida also passed new voting restrictions, and President Joe Biden on Saturday compared the Texas bill unfavorably to electoral changes in those states as “an attack on democracy.”
The vote in the Texas Senate came shortly after a final version of the bill was released on Saturday. Around midnight, Republicans exercised their majority to suspend rules that would normally prohibit voting on a bill that had not been released for 24 hours, which Democrats protested as a violation of protocol that denied them as well as give the audience time to examine the language first.
The bill would re-authorize pro-election observers by 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.
Another new provision could also make it easier to quash an election in Texas, allowing a judge to overturn a result if the number of fraudulent votes cast could alter the result, whether or not it is proven that the fraud affected. the result.
Election officials would also face new criminal penalties, including felony charges for sending postal ballot requests to people who did not request them. The Texas District and County Attorneys Association tweeted that it had counted at least 16 new, expanded or improved election-related crimes in the bill.
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 black religious congregations nationwide. The idea dates back to the civil rights movement. Democratic State Representative Nicole Collier, chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, said the change “will disengage, disenfranchise those who use souls to vote.”
Pressed on the Senate floor to find out why Sunday’s vote couldn’t start sooner, Republican Senator Bryan Hughes said, “Election workers want to go to church too.”
Collier was one of three Democrats chosen to negotiate the final version, none of whom signed his name on it. She said she saw a bill around 11 p.m. Friday – which was different from the one she received earlier today – and was asked for her signature the next morning.
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, scammed business leaders for speaking out.
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.
Senior Republican negotiators Hughes and State Representative Briscoe Cain called the bill “one of the most comprehensive and sane electoral reform projects” in 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.
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.