Texas Senate Advances Bill Limiting How and When Voters Can Cast Ballots, Receive Mail-in Voting Applications

Voters line up outside the American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas waiting to cast their ballots on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Dallas.

Voters line up outside the American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas waiting to cast their ballots on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Dallas. AP Photo/LM Otero

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Senate Bill 7 is at the forefront of Texas Republicans’ crusade to further restrict voting in the state following last year’s election.

"Texas Senate advances bill limiting how and when voters can cast ballots, receive mail-in voting applications" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Senate Republicans on Thursday cleared the way for new, sweeping restrictions to voting in Texas that take particular aim at forbidding local efforts meant to widen access.

In an overnight vote after more than seven hours of debate, the Texas Senate signed off on Senate Bill 7, which would limit extended early voting hours, prohibit drive-thru voting and make it illegal for local election officials to proactively send applications to vote by mail to voters, even if they qualify.

The legislation is at the forefront of Texas Republicans’ crusade to further restrict voting in the state following last year’s election. Though Republicans remain in full control of state government, Texas saw the highest turnout in decades in 2020, with Democrats continuing to drive up their vote counts in the state’s urban centers and diversifying suburban communities.

Like other proposals under consideration at the Texas Capitol, many of the restrictions in SB 7 would target initiatives championed in those areas to make it easier for more voters to participate in elections.

The bill — deemed a priority by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — now heads to the House for consideration after moving rapidly through the Senate. Just two weeks after it was filed, a Senate committee advanced it Friday. That approval followed more than five hours of public testimony, largely in opposition over concerns it would be detrimental to voters who already struggle to vote under the state’s strict rules for elections.

While presenting the bill to the Senate, Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes said the legislation “standardizes and clarifies” voting rules so that “every Texan has a fair and equal opportunity to vote, regardless of where they live in the state.”

“Overall, this bill is designed to address areas throughout the process where bad actors can take advantage, so Texans can feel confident that their elections are fair, honest and open,” Hughes said.

In Texas and nationally, the Republican campaign to change voting rules in the name of “election integrity” has been largely built on concerns over widespread voter fraud for which there is little to no evidence. More recently, Texas Republican lawmakers have attempted to reframe their legislative proposals by offering that even one instance of fraud undermines the voice of a legitimate voter.

But Hughes was met by fierce opposition from Senate Democrats who took turns arguing the legislation would make wholesale changes to address isolated — and rare — incidents of fraud at the expense of voting initiatives that were particularly successful in reaching voters of color.

"As I see this bill, it's a pure case of suppression. There are some things in here that are really offensive," said state Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston. “This hurts to the core.”

The bill originally limited early voting hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., curtailing the extended hours offered last year in Harris County and other large counties where voting ran until 10 p.m. for several days to accommodate people like shift workers for whom regular hours don’t work. The bill was rewritten before it reached the Senate floor to allow for voting only between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

But those hours will still prohibit the day of 24-hour voting Harris County offered last November. The legislation would also outlaw the drive-thru voting set up at 10 polling places in the county for the general election.

While questioning Hughes, Democratic state Sen. Carol Alvarado of Houston referenced an analysis by Harris County’s election office that estimated that Black and Hispanic voters cast more than half of the votes counted at both drive-thru sites and during extended hours.

“Knowing that, who are you really targeting?” Alvarado asked.

“There’s nothing in this bill that has to do with targeting specific groups. The rules apply across the board,” Hughes replied.

In defending the portions of the bill that target Harris County’s initiatives, Hughes in part pointed to the limitations he claimed drive-thru and overnight voting presented for poll watchers’ oversight, characterizing them as the “eyes and ears of the public.” Poll watchers are not public watchdogs but instead inherently partisan figures, appointed by candidates and political parties to serve at polling places. And poll watchers did have access to observe drive-thru and 24-hour voting last year.

If passed into law, the legislation would broaden poll watchers’ access at polling places, even giving them power to video record voters receiving assistance in filling out their ballots if the poll watcher “reasonably believes” the help is unlawful. That provision has drawn particular concerns about possible intimidation of voters who speak languages other than English as well as voters with intellectual or developmental disabilities who may require assistance through prompting or questioning which could be misconstrued as coercion.

The collection of civil rights organizations that have warned the bill could lead to disenfranchisement of voters of color and voters with disabilities did see one of their most prominent concerns addressed in the version of the bill passed by the Senate.

Texas allows people looking to vote by mail based on a disability to request a ballot for an individual election or apply once for ballots in every election in a calendar year. Originally, the bill would have required voters citing a disability to provide proof of their condition or illness, including written documentation from the Social Security Administration or a doctor’s note, to qualify for the latter. Hughes endorsed an amendment by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, to nix that requirement, citing the “confusion” it had created and feedback from advocates for people with disabilities.

But Republicans rejected more than a dozen amendments offered by Democrats to strike other portions of the bill, clarify language on how local elections officials could make vote by mail applications available to voters seeking them, and an amendment that appeared to affirm the right to vote.

Just before the Senate’s vote to advance the bill, state Sen. Royce West, of Dallas, criticized Republicans for not listening to Democrats’ concerns about how the bill would harm communities of color represented by senators of color — all of whom are Democrats — who have faced a legacy of suppression when it comes to voting.

“I hope that one day you hear us — not only hear us but listen to us,” West said. “Passage of this bill tonight makes clear that on these issues you have not understood our plight in this country.”

SB 7’s prohibition on sending vote-by-mail applications to voters who haven’t requested them comes after a pandemic-era election that saw a significant increase in votes cast by mail as voters tried to keep safe from a deadly virus. Other Texas counties proactively sent applications to voters 65 and older who automatically qualify to vote by mail, but Harris County came under Republicans’ scrutiny for attempting to send applications to all 2.4 million registered voters in the county with specific instructions on how to determine if they were eligible. The Texas Supreme Court ultimately blocked that effort.

Texas Republicans’ attempt to prevent a repeated attempt echoes efforts in other states, including Georgia where Republican lawmakers recently passed a similar prohibition. After voters of color helped flip key states into Democrats’ column.during the presidential election, Republicans have channeled their myth that the election was stolen into legislative pushback in state Capitols across the U.S.

Hughes rejected Texas Democrats’ inferences throughout the debate that his bill is part of a national push from his party. He noted aspects of the SB 7 carried over from failed legislation proposed during the 2019 legislative session.

"If we focus on the provisions of this bill — not what the feds are doing but what's in this bill and Texas elections — we'll have to agree these are provisions that will apply across the board, they're consistent, they're fair," Hughes said.

But Democrats pointed to the focus on increased voting regulations in diverse, urban areas as proof. Beyond the restrictions targeting Harris County, the legislation would also set specific rules for the distribution of polling places in only the handful of counties with a population of at least 1 million — most of which are either under Democratic control or won by Democrats in recent national and statewide elections.

“It’s a strange, strange coincidence that all of these laws are being filed right now,” West said. “That’s all I’m saying.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/04/01/texas-voting-restrictions-legislature/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Alexa Ura is an associate editor and reporter at The Texas Tribune

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Orlando Protects Citizens During Heavy Rain Events by Optimizing Water Data Intelligence
Orlando, FL, USA
Small city of Baldwin, GA with <5K residents reduces info calls to City Hall by 50%
Baldwin, GA, USA
Green Infrastructure acts as a bridge for Indigenous reconciliation in Vancouver, BC
W 63rd Ave & Yukon St, Vancouver, BC V5X 2J2, Canada

NEXT STORY: The City That Pinned Its Renewal on a Self-Chilling Beverage Can Wants Its Money Back

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.