HOUSTON – The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature on Tuesday passed a major bill revising the state’s elections, overcoming a six-week Democrats walkout to make Texas one of the toughest states in the country to vote.
The voting restrictions were a decisive victory in Republicans’ nationwide push to tighten voting rules and change the administration of the elections following false allegations about the integrity of the 2020 presidential election. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, on Tuesday promised to sign the bill.
The legislation specifically targets Harris County, a growing Democratic stronghold that includes Houston and is the third most populous county in the country. The law prohibits voting methods the county introduced last year to facilitate voting during the pandemic, including drive-thru polls and 24-hour voting, as well as temporary polling places.
It also prohibits election officials from sending unsolicited postal voting requests to voters and promoting the use of postal voting. The bill greatly empowers pro-election observers, creates new criminal and civil penalties for election workers, and erects new barriers for those looking to help voters who need help, such as translations. Big Texas counties – where Democrats perform best – need to provide live video of the ballot counting locations.
Including Texas, 18 states across the country have passed more than 30 bills restricting voting this year, one of the biggest contractions in ballot access since the Voting Rights Act was passed. in 1965. The relentless pace of these voting laws increased the pressure on Democrats in Congress, where a deadlock in a tightly divided Senate left them little hope of passing a federal voting law that would combat the new restrictions. .
Texas, a state with booming urban areas and demographic trends that have long been seen as favoring Democrats, already had some of the country’s biggest barriers to voting. It has closed hundreds of polling stations since the Supreme Court gutted a key part of the voting rights law in 2013, according to a report from the Leadership Conference’s Nonpartisan Education Fund. The state has one of the strictest voter identification laws in the country and does not allow postal voting without excuse for voters under the age of 65.
Democrats, voting rights groups and civil rights leaders had fiercely opposed the Texas bill, known as Senate Bill 1, arguing that its impact would fall disproportionately on black and Latino voters. To delay the passage, more than 50 Democratic State House members fled the state for Washington in July, denying Republicans enough numbers to hold a vote. The move garnered national attention and support from President Biden and Senate Democrats, who Texas lawmakers urged to pass federal legislation protecting voting rights.
“We knew we couldn’t delay this day forever,” Representative Chris Turner, chairman of the Democratic House caucus, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Now that this has happened, we need the US Senate to act immediately.”
State Senator Bryan Hughes, the Republican author of the legislation, called the measure “a bill we can be proud of” in a speech Tuesday in Austin.
“How much fraud is acceptable? Mr. Hughes asked. “Nothing. How much deletion is OK? Nothing. This is why Senate Bill 1 makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat.
Texas Republicans argued that the legislation was necessary to build confidence in the electoral system and combat the possibility of voter fraud. Throughout debates in the House and Senate, Republican lawmakers pointed to low-key episodes of what they described as inappropriate and fraudulent voting, but not the kind of systematic voter fraud that could have altered election results. . They firmly denied that the bill would disproportionately hurt black and Hispanic voters, but blocked Democrats’ efforts to incorporate into legislation the study of the bill’s impact on voters of color.
“It’s about making sure all Texans have confidence in the outcome of every election in Texas,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican who chairs the Texas Senate, said in a statement.
The ballot bill isn’t the only conservative measure being considered in the Texas capital. The current special session, which followed a particularly conservative regular legislative session earlier this year, contains a series of bills that are perhaps even more controversial.
The list of bills – rekindled by Mr Abbott, who faces re-election next year and, for the first time in 25 years of elected office, serious challenges from fellow Republicans – sets out the priorities one of the most ardent supporters of the GOP. The measures include more money for a wall along the border with Mexico, stricter rules on how Texas schools teach race, a ban on receiving abortion drugs by mail, and restrictions on transgender athletes in competitions.
The legislature is also considering a move to anticipate local worker protection ordinances, an effort that would deepen the battle lines between the Republican-dominated state government and Democratic officials in Texas cities.
The election bill passed after several unusually bitter and unpredictable months on the Texas Capitol.
After members of the Democratic House left the state, Mr Abbott called two special sessions, one after the other. Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan has issued civilian warrants for the arrest of lawmakers. Democrats first sought refuge outside of Texas and then, when some returned, stealthily to their homes or to “undisclosed places” across the state.
Over time, the focus has waned and many Democrats faltered. The first 30-day special session expired in early August without a vote. The second began immediately after, and Democrats crouched down, mostly in Texas, meeting daily by videoconference to try and keep their ranks together. Some have arrived, but not enough to allow Republicans to vote.
Then on August 19, three Democratic members from Houston surprised their colleagues by showing up together on the floor of the State Capitol House. The move paved the way for Republicans to establish a quorum and sparked a series of criticisms and backbiting among Democrats across the state.
The fact that the bill was delayed for as long as it had – the walkout lasted 38 days in all – surprised many in Austin. He raised the national profiles of Democrats who traveled to Washington to demand federal voting rights legislation, their only real hope of countering Republican measures in Texas.
Some Republican members of the legislature have called on the citizens of Texas and others to help track down the absent Democrats. And outside groups have offered money – up to $ 2,500 in one case – for information leading to Democrats, worrying those members that a vigilante could bring justice himself.
Ultimately, the state’s Republican leaders chose to wait for their fellow Democrats rather than make arrests – as some more fiery lawmakers have called for – to establish a quorum.
The walkout ended as others have done in Texas over the years, with Democrats returning to Austin to watch bills they vehemently opposed pass the Legislature with little of their input.
On Friday, the House passed the bill in an almost partisan 80 to 41 vote. The Senate had already passed its version of the bill, but because the House made some revisions to the Senate bill, it has passed its version of the bill. been referred to the Senate. that the mover of the bill, Mr. Hughes, agree.
Mr Hughes accepted all but one of the changes: he opposed an amendment introduced by Republicans that could have helped Crystal Mason and other Texans sued for voting. They had voted after being released from prison, unaware that they were not eligible.
A House and Senate conference committee withdrew the amendment. Both houses of the Legislative Assembly adopted the final version of the bill on Tuesday.
But the noise Democrats made and the national media attention they drew to Texas appeared to alter at least some measures that had prompted voting rights advocates to view the initial bills as the most restrictive in the country. . The final version contained no limits on Sunday voting times – seen as an attempt to target “souls at the polls” events in black churches – or provisions to facilitate the annulment of elections.
It also extended early voting on weekdays by one hour and added a provision for voters to resolve postal voting issues.
Despite this, the passage of the legislation was a blatant demonstration of Texas political dominance by Republicans, who hope to retain the levers of power in the nation’s largest red state. More than 20 Democrats maintained their protest on Tuesday, remaining absent from the House.
“You have done more than what you wanted in this bill,” Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat from Houston, told her fellow Republicans at State House ahead of the previous vote on the bill on Friday. “It’s your bill. Your idea. And you will be responsible for the consequences.
Rep. Andrew Murr, the Republican House godfather, defended the legislation on Friday, his voice almost hoarse after hours of debate. “We want Texans to have confidence in the outcome of the system,” he said. “We’re all striving to improve, and I think that’s what we’re looking at today with this legislation is to improve the electoral code in Texas.”