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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
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Texas House advances controversial voting bill

With a quorum present at the Texas Capitol, the Republican-backed bill came one step closer to becoming law after more than 12 hours of heated debate.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The Texas House of Representatives passed an omnibus voting restrictions bill Thursday that was a priority for Governor Greg Abbott when he called for the current special session. Senate Bill 1 passed on a party line vote after hours of debate on it and 62 amendments. 

The Texas Senate must now either approve of the version passed by the House to send the bill to the governor or disagree with the changes made and send it to a conference committee to work out the differences.

Since the regular session, voting restrictions legislation has been a highly controversial topic in the Lone Star State. It was this very legislation that served as the impetus for the governor to call a special session for the state Legislature to pass and for Democrats to flee the state in an effort to block it. 

In its current form, Senate Bill 1 bans 24-hour voting and sets the hours of operation for polling locations to be between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. during the early voting period. In that 16-hour window, polling locations must be open for at least nine hours during early voting. Drive-through voting will also be banned under Senate Bill 1. Both 24-hour and drive-through voting were innovations in Harris County, home to Houston, that were used to increase voters' access to the polls while limiting exposure to Covid-19.

Republican lawmakers have criticized drive-through voting for presenting issues when it comes to voters' right to a secret ballot. Their concern stems from the alleged possibility that an individual may have someone in a vehicle with them, intimidating them to vote a certain way. Under the bill, curbside voting is still allowed for people who are unable to enter a polling location due to a disability. 

Poll watchers will also see their rights at polling locations expanded under Senate Bill 1. Section 4 of the bill states that a poll watcher is entitled to see and hear election officials executing their duties. An issue many people raised during committee hearings was that poll watchers have been obstructed at polling locations and they are being shut out of the process by election officials. However, in some of Texas’ urban counties, elected officials say they have encountered unruly watchers that are there to intimidate voters. The bill would make refusing a poll watcher a Class A misdemeanor, which holds up to a $4,000 fine and up to one year in jail.    

Additionally, Senate Bill 1 will create criminal penalties for election or elected officials for soliciting vote by mail applications to voters who did not request one and require people applying to vote by mail to provide their drivers license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

Republicans voted down numerous amendments proposed by Democrats that would have added provisions allowing for online voter registration, expanding voter ID requirements to encompass student IDs and allow for local officials to declare Election Day as a holiday. 

Republican lawmakers have expressed that their goal is to standardize elections across the state of Texas and prevent voter fraud or ballot harvesters. Representative Andrew Murr, R- Kerrville, said during the debate, “the focus of this bill is forward-looking and you’ll notice that [references to fraud in the bill relate] to the likelihood of fraud.”

Democratic House members focused on how this legislation may have a disparate impact on communities of color and people with disabilities. A specific area of contention surrounds banning 24-hour and drive-through voting. During the 2020 election, the only time these options were available to voters, Harris County saw higher turnout among people of color through the use of these options. Democratic lawmakers have acknowledged their colleagues' concerns over the practice, but see perfecting drive-through and 24-hour voting more favorable than banning them in their entirety.              


Groups in the state that give voice to communities of color have been staunch opponents to Senate Bill 1 from the very beginning. The Texas NAACP said in a letter they sent to the author of the bill, state Senator Bryan Hughes, that the bill “[imposes] severe, needless, and discriminatory restrictions on voting by mail, curbside voting, and the receipt and provision of voting assistance.”

National President for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Domingo Garcia, said in a statement on the organization's website that they “will challenge in the federal courts any infringements of Texans’ right to vote.”

“We are supporting all those who believe in the right to vote, and our freedoms should not be rigged by Republican elites and their one percent lobbyists. One person, one vote,” said Garcia.

Earlier this summer, LULAC filed a federal lawsuit against the state over Senate Bill 1111 which barred people from using a P.O. box address to register to vote. The new law will also empower voter registrars to send voter confirmation notices to people requiring them to confirm their information.

At a rally held on the steps of the Capitol in favor of Senate Bill 1, Republican voters backed the legislation, believing much as their representatives do that it is common sense reforms that “make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

Pat Fry, a resident of Central Texas and supporter of the bill, said in an interview that “ all of the things [lawmakers] have added [are] trying to safeguard elections from tampering or manipulations because that has been going on.”

The fight in Texas over voting began in March of this year during the regular legislative session. Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6 were the first bills that were introduced aimed at reshaping how elections are conducted in Texas. As the session carried on, Senate Bill 7 became the version Republican lawmakers focused on passing.

Amendments made to Senate Bill 7 in the Texas House sent the bill to a conference committee where new provisions were added that were never debated before. Those provisions included limiting the hours of operations of polling locations on Sunday, limiting Black voters who participate in Souls to the Polls, and making it easier to overturn an election if a candidate alleges fraud. 

Governor Abbott pledged to call lawmakers back to Austin for a special session almost immediately after Senate Bill 7 was successfully blocked from passage. That special session began on July 8 and ushered in two new versions of a voting restrictions bill, Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3.

Democrats continued public attacks on the bill and the special session as a whole. Many Democrats dubbed the called session the “suppression session,” not only for the efforts of Republicans to pass a voting restrictions bill but due to legislation restricting transgender youth participating in sports and limiting Texas teachers from discussing race and current events. 

Democrats launched their second quorum break on July 12, leaving Texas on a chartered jet for the District of Columbia, where they spent weeks lobbying for Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation. Their mission was to push members in the U.S. Senate and the Biden administration to pass the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act. Democrats reasoned that federal legislation would supersede any efforts by Texas and other states to add voting restrictions.

Lawmakers in Texas have just over a week left in the second special session to complete work on Senate Bill 1 and to get it to the governor for a final signature. With the bill back in the hands of the Texas Senate, they are expected to move fast. Governor Abbott set 17 items on the agenda for lawmakers to address. So far, Senate Bill 1 is the first bill to be voted out of either chamber.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Politics

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