The measure targets several methods of voting that were implemented in the state during the pandemic to help people cast ballots safely, banning drive-through and 24-hour voting.
by Elise Viebeck and Eva Ruth Moravec, Washington Post
Texas is poised to enact a wide-ranging elections bill with new voting restrictions that opponents say will make it harder to cast ballots and administer elections in the state.
The Texas House on Tuesday passed the final version of the legislation Tuesday, and it could receive approval from the Senate later in the day after a partisan showdown that has lasted three months. If the bill becomes law, Texas will join at least 17 other states that have tightened their voting rules since the 2020 general election.
The elections measure is a priority for Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and his Republican allies in the state legislature, who worked to pass it during three separate legislative sessions, starting in the spring. The bill has undergone many changes, some as recently as Monday as the two chambers negotiated the final version.
Here’s a quick guide to the bill, the debate over its provisions and how it led to a standoff between Republicans and Democrats in the state.
What voting restrictions does the measure impose?
The bill targets several methods of voting that were implemented in Texas during the pandemic to help people cast ballots safely. It prohibits drive-through and 24-hour voting— popular in Harris County, home to the Democratic stronghold of Houston— that were disproportionately used by voters of color, local officials said. It also places limits on mail voting, making it a felony for election officials to distribute mail ballot applications unless voters ask for them. “Solicit[ing] the submission of an application to vote by mail” is a felony under the bill.
The legislation could make it harder to vote for people who have disabilities or need translation help to vote, advocates for those groups say. Specifically, the measure creates new rules and penalties for people who assist others as they fill out a registration form or cast a ballot. Those people will now have to complete paperwork and swear a lengthy oath on penalty of perjury that they are following the rules. Opponents of the bill have argued this will create a chilling effect on the process and expose people to penalties for unintended missteps.
Republicans say the new rules are important for preventing fraud and claim that addressing that risk outweighs any extra burden placed on election officials, voters or the people who assist them.
“Senate Bill 1 will make it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” said Texas House Republican Caucus Chairman Jim Murphy said in a statement last week, adding that the legislation will “go a long way in ensuring the integrity of our elections.”
In what other ways does it tighten election rules?
The bill adds additional rules to nearly every aspect of voting and elections.
One section that has prompted substantial debate relates to partisan poll watchers. Though they have to receive a copy of a training manual before they can begin their work, the bill gives new powers to such observers, allowing them to “sit or stand near enough to see and hear the election officers conducting the observed activity” and preventing others from denying them “free movement.” The poll watchers have to swear an oath that they will not disrupt voting or “harass” voters, but advocates have raised concerns about whether there are enough limits to ensure they abide by that promise.
Another contentious section relates to people who register to vote or cast a ballot when they are not eligible to do so. Under the bill, a county registrar has 72 hours to submit an affidavit with the details of the voter’s actions to the state attorney general, the secretary of state and the local prosecutor. Critics say this requirement could encourage the criminal prosecutions of people who vote without realizing they are ineligible, citing the case of Crystal Mason, who was sentenced to five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot that was never counted in the 2016 presidential election. Mason was on supervised release for a federal conviction and says she did not realize she was not eligible to vote. State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R) sought to soften the language with an amendment, but it was stripped out during the conference committee with the Senate. The final version of the bill does require courts to tell people who are convicted of a felony how the conviction affects their right to vote.
Does the bill include provisions that would make it easier to vote?
Republicans say it is unfair to describe the legislation as mostly restricting voting and tightening election rules. They note that the bill adds an extra hour of voting time during each weekday of early voting and increases the number of counties that must provide at least 12 hours of early voting each weekday in the week before an election.
Why did Republicans fight so hard to pass the bill?
The voting process is already harder in Texas than in any other state, according to an academic analysis published last year. But the state legislator who helped shepherdthe bill, Rep. Andrew Murr (R), has argued that the rules should be tightened even more to ensure Texans have faith in their elections.
“Reforms are needed to the election laws of this state to ensure that fraud does not undermine the public confidence in the electoral process,” the bill’s text states.
State officials have told the legislature there was little evidence of fraud in the 2020 election. But Texas Republicans, like many of their GOP counterparts throughout the country, have pushed this year for stricter rules in their states, echoing former president Donald Trump’s baseless claims that voter fraud is a significant problem.
How did Democrats delay the passage of the bill?
Texas House Democrats broke quorum three times to stop the new voting restrictions from passing. Their protests blocked the House from conducting business for most of the summer — particularly after they orchestrated a secret exodus of dozens of Democratic legislators from Austin to D.C. in July. Republicans responded by doubling down with lawsuits, arrest warrants for the Democrats and two special legislative sessions aimed at passing the bill.
The Democrats said the legislation will be deeply harmful for voters — particularly voters of color, who experts say will be disproportionately affected by its restrictions.
“This bill was never about election security or voter integrity,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner said in a statement last week. “It was always about using the Big Lie to justify restricting access to the ballot box.”