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Texas Legislature Poised to Pass State Voting Restrictions

April 7, 2021 by Reece Nations
Fog enshrouds Texas Capitol dome on Jan. 8, 2019, opening day of the 86th Texas Legislature. (Ken Herman/Austin American-Statesman/TNS)

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Republicans are moving to pass their own set of limits on voting as legislation restricting early voting access awaits a House committee assignment. 

The Texas bill, one of 361 bills pending nationwide with restrictive provisions, passed along party lines in the Senate last week after hours of contentious debate. The bill’s provisions would institute limits on early voting hours, prohibit local election officials from proactively mailing vote by mail applications to qualified individuals and illegalize drive-thru voting. 

In all, bills with restrictive voting provisions have been filed in 47 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Despite the continuing trend of states advancing bills with restrictive provisions, only five such bills have been enacted to date, while 843 bills with expansive provisions have been introduced by state legislatures nationwide. 

Although Republicans solidified their control in both chambers of the state’s legislature in November’s elections, Democrats made significant gains in urban and suburban communities. Ultimately, Republicans sustained the bicameral majority needed to advance their agenda amid last year’s record high voter turnouts. 

Harris County was the only Texas county to create drive-thru polling places in 2020, accounting for around 10% of all ballots cast in the election. In November, a federal judge rejected Republican activists’ request to dismiss the nearly 127,000 ballots cast at drive-thru locations. 

Proponents of the bill maintain the legislation would certify the integrity of state elections by suppressing bad actors from manipulating the voting process. Its opponents, however, portrayed the bill as an attempt at voter suppression by stifling initiatives utilized disproportionately by poor voters and voters of color. 

“Maintaining the integrity of our elections is vital to preserving public trust so our democracy can flourish, and that’s why I have made election security a top priority again this legislative session,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a written statement. “SB 7 will strengthen the public’s faith in our electoral process and ensure that every Texan knows that when they cast their ballot, their vote is secure.” 

In his remarks on the Senate floor, Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes, said the bill would standardize voting rules by requiring large counties with over one million residents to distribute polling locations based on eligible voters rather than voter turnout. 

Although the text of the bill as introduced limited voting to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., it was rewritten prior to its passage to permit voting between the hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Still, the provision drastically diminishes the ability for counties to accommodate shift workers as Harris County did in November by offering 24-hour voting periods. 

“These bills are racist Jim Crow-era laws and are an assault on our democracy,” Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a written statement. “They have no place in Texas. We are grateful to the businesses standing up for Texans, for voting, and for our democracy. Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick are learning that voter suppression is bad for business.” 

Hinojosa continued, “Texas is already the hardest state in the nation to vote in. These laws would add confusion to a complicated process and intimidate voters from casting their ballots. Republicans keep putting up roadblocks to make it harder to vote because they know that when people vote in large numbers, it’s always bad for their party.”

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