Elections bill passes out of committee as Texas House has quorum, for now

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The controversial elections bill that Democrats fled to fight last month officially moved forward in the Texas House.

The bill officially passed out of committee 9-5 Monday night, and now awaits debate on the House floor.

The bill would ban 24-hour and drive-thru voting, add more liabilities for those assisting voters with disabilities and give more power to poll watchers.

The bill, Senate Bill 1, already made it through the Senate. It’s authored by State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R – Mineola.

“We’re going to get a good bill with good policy. We’re not going to make bad policy just to entice someone to come back to work,” Sen. Hughes said ahead of the hearing.

State Representative Andrew Murr, R – Junction, laid out the bill to the committee Monday morning.

“The legislative intent of the bill, which is the application of this, quote, code and the conduct of elections be uniform and consistent throughout the state to reduce the likelihood of fraud in the conduct of elections, protect the secrecy of the ballot, promote voter access and ensure that all legally cast ballots are counted, so Texans remain confident in a reliable election system,” Murr began.

Republicans call the bill election integrity, while Democrats call it voter suppression.

That’s in part due to a section that would empower poll watchers to roam in a polling place with little oversight.

“I am concerned that we’re giving a lot of authority to poll watchers,” State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D – Houston, said in committee Monday.

Poll watchers have long been part of the election code.

“Poll watchers can be appointed by an appointing authority, which can be a candidate, a political party, a write-in candidate or a measure that’s on the ballot,” Rep. Murr noted.

But, during the 2020 election, they became more prevalent. Democrats explain the new proposed provision could lead to voter intimidation.

“We started seeing more calls for people to be poll watchers, despite the fact that we have very reputable thoughtful elections workers who were trained and are working the polls,” Rep. Celia Israel, D – Austin, explained Monday.

That’s why Rep. Thompson is trying to minimize that intimidation by asking her Republican colleagues to consider adding a legal requirement for poll watchers to prove they completed training.

“The person can agree to take an oath of saying that, you know, I read the manual, I have received the training of my video up in person,” Rep. Thompson said.

“We might very well have an opportunity to address that,” Rep. Murr said he would be open to an amendment like that on the House floor.

But, voting rights advocates say that amendment won’t do enough.

“When I’m thinking of poll watchers, at polling sites, intimidating voters, it’s not as easy as like, ‘hey, this person took an oath and is now neglecting that oath, and must be removed from the premises.’ This would be a process that would take a long time, just from my experience working there,” Sissi Yado with the Texas For All Coalition said Monday.

They and other voting rights advocates are urging Democrats to break quorum to kill the bill, again.

“If I were a Democrat, fighting them, one, I would try to ask as many questions as I could in these testimonies to lay that out. But I would also not come back to the House floor because none of this is good for our communities,” Yado said.

While Republicans have said they will negotiate with the Democrats who have returned, they have the numbers to pass the bill without them, as long as they have a quorum.

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