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.
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.
See here for the previous update. Note the very careful language Hughes used in his response to Sen. Alvarado. The Republican defense to the eventual lawsuits is that these laws aren’t targeting voters of color in any way. They’re just plain old value-neutral applies-to-everyone restrictions, the kind that (Republican) Supreme Court Justices approve of, and if they happen to have a disparate impact on some voters of color, well, that’s just the price you have to pay to
make Republicans feel more secure about their future electoral prospects ensure the integrity of the vote.
It’s the poll watchers provision that is easily the worst of this bill.
Although videotaping in polling locations in Texas is prohibited, under a bill that passed the Texas Senate just after 2 a.m. on Thursday, partisan poll watchers would be allowed to videotape any person voting that they suspect may be doing something unlawful. But poll workers and voters would be barred from recording the poll watchers.
History has shown this is likely going to lead to more Black and Hispanic people being recorded by white poll watchers who believe they are witnessing something suspicious, advocates warn.
“It’s designed to go after minority voters,” said Gary Bledsoe, the president of the Texas NAACP.
Not so, says State Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Republican from Mineola. He said the recordings by poll watchers will give officials a way to resolve disputes at polling locations especially related to potential voter fraud.
“They are the eyes and ears of the public, and if a dispute does arise about what happened, what was said, what was done, the more evidence we can have the better,” Hughes said of the provision within his Senate Bill 7, which includes a number of measures to restrict voting access in the name of preventing fraud.
But to Black and Hispanic leaders, the legislation is a replay of the voter intimidation from the 1960s and 1970s. After the voting rights acts of the 1960s were passed, Domingo Garcia, the national president of LULAC, said law enforcement in some counties in Texas would take pictures of Hispanics and Black voters at polling places and then try to deliver those pictures to their white employers or others in the community to get them in trouble.
“It was a form of voter intimidation then, and that’s what this would be now,” Garcia said.
What makes SB 7 even more dangerous is who it is empowers to make recordings, Bledsoe said.
Poll watchers are volunteers chosen by candidates and parties to observe the election process. They do not undergo background checks and are not subject to any training requirements.
As such, they could quickly become a sort of vigilante force, Bledsoe said. He said many times Republican poll watchers are sent from other parts of the community into Black and Hispanic precincts and may not even be familiar with the neighborhoods where they would be allowed to record people trying to vote.
“This is intimidating as all get out,” he said.
Shortly after midnight Thursday in a marathon hearing, Hughes amended the bill to bar poll watchers from posting the videos on social media or sharing them with others except for the Texas Secretary of State.
If you can’t see the potential for abuse here, I don’t know what to tell you. Others have pointed out that voters who have been the victim of domestic violence would certainly feel intimidated by having a stranger video them. This is giving unvetted people with a motive to cause trouble a lot of power and no accountability. That’s a recipe for disaster.
There’s not a lot more to say about this that I haven’t already said, so let me reiterate a few things while I can. There’s been more corporate pushback on the Georgia law, but we’re still very short on attention for what’s happening in Texas, not to mention the rest of the country. At this point, merely condemning the suppressionist bills is insufficient. If you actually believe in the importance of voting, then put your money where your mouth is and take action to vote out the officials who are trying to take it away from so many Americans. Senator Hughes is right about one thing – this anti-voting push from him and his fellow Republicans did in fact begin before the 2020 election. All the more reason why the elected officials doing the pushing do not deserve to have the power and responsibility they have been given.
Sen. Borris Miles gave a speech on the floor thanking Sen. Hughes for “waking the beast”, and I do think bills like this will have a galvanizing effect for Democrats and Democratic leaners. As I’ve said before, I think the practical effect of this law will be more negative to the Republican rank and file than perhaps they expect. Democrats took advantage of voting by mail in 2020, but that’s not their usual way of voting, and the restrictions that SB7 imposes, as Campos notes, is going to hurt those who are most used to voting by mail, who are generally Republicans. I believe as much as ever that Democrats should campaign in 2022 on a promise to make it easier and more convenient to vote. This law, to whatever extent it is allowed to be enacted, will hurt, but how much and in what ways remains to be seen. That’s the risk of reacting so forcefully to an anomalous event – it’s easy to go overboard and do things you didn’t really intend to do. We’ll see how it plays out. The Texas Signal has more.
UPDATE: This is a good start.
American Airlines Statement on Texas Voting Legislation
Earlier this morning, the Texas State Senate passed legislation with provisions that limit voting access. To make American’s stance clear: We are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it. As a Texas-based business, we must stand up for the rights of our team members and customers who call Texas home, and honor the sacrifices made by generations of Americans to protect and expand the right to vote.
Voting is the hallmark of our democracy, and is the foundation of our great country. We value the democratic process and believe every eligible American should be allowed to exercise their right to vote, no matter which political party or candidate they support.
We acknowledge how difficult this is for many who have fought to secure and exercise their constitutional right to vote. Any legislation dealing with how elections are conducted must ensure ballot integrity and security while making it easier to vote, not harder. At American, we believe we should break down barriers to diversity, equity and inclusion in our society – not create them.
UPDATE: Also good:
Agree. Free, fair, equitable access to voting is the foundation of American democracy. Those rights – especially for women, communities of color – have been hard-earned. Governments should ensure citizens have their voices heard. HB6 does the opposite, and we are opposed to it.
— Michael Dell (@michaeldell) 2:50 PM – 1 April 2021
Via the Trib. Keep ’em coming, but don’t forget the need for action.