AUSTIN (KXAN) — A bill that changes how Texas administers its elections continues to roll through the Legislature Thursday with its passing through the House Elections Committee.
The committee passed the bill, House Bill 6, Thursday and it will move to the House floor for consideration.
The bill would provide additional protections to poll watchers — limiting an election judge’s ability to expel them from a polling location — and prohibit government officials from sending unsolicited mail-in ballot applications to voters. People assisting disabled voters with their ballot would have to provide identification and a reason for helping the voter if the proposal is approved. Additionally, voters with disabilities would have to prove they can’t get to the polls to qualify for a mail-in ballot.
Its companion bill, Senate Bill 7, would do away with ballot drop boxes and would ban most drive-thru voting. Republicans feel these are bills that will renew trust in the voting system, though the Texas Secretary of State’s elections office said the 2020 election was “smooth and secure.”
Democrats say the bills amount to voter suppression and will make it harder for all Texans to vote.
With the committee’s passing of HB 6, advocates for people with disabilities issued statements saying these bills will make it even more difficult for people with disabilities to vote.
“If we’re serious about ‘election integrity’ and defending all voters’ access to the ballot box, bills like HB 6 and SB 7 should be roundly rejected in their present form,” said James Meadours, a past president for Texas Advocates, an organization that advances politicies supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Texas.
Advocates say Senate Bill 7, in particular, would create “new, confusing documentation requirements for voters to receive assistance,” and “create additional barriers for community organizations to provide needed information and assistance to voters, particularly related to vote by mail.”
In a news conference Wednesday, Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick lashed out at corporations who publicly denounced the legislation and fervently defended it.
“We have not changed any dates on early voting. It still starts two weeks before the election. Twelve days of early voting. We have not changed mail-in voting for seniors or people who are disabled,” he said.
Kenneth Semien, Coalition of Texans with Disabilities board president, said he’s “disappointed and extremely concerned about the direction our state is headed.”
“We can strengthen our elections and empower voters by supporting ballot tracking so voters can check the status of their votes submitted by mail,” he said. “We must also defend against faulty policies around mail-in ballot signature verification to ensure voters have an opportunity to cure their ballot before an election, if a discrepancy is found.”
MOVE Texas also issued a statement after the result, saying in part, “We condemn this measure in the strongest possible terms. This is not over. We will continue to fight tooth and nail to ensure that every eligible Texan has equal access to the ballot box. In an honest democracy, nothing is more fundamental. We are all hands on deck.”