AUSTIN (KXAN/Texas Tribune) — Very early Sunday morning, the Texas Senate voted to approve a bill that would overhaul voting rules in the Lone Star State. While approval by the Texas House is still needed, the legislation could head to the desk of Governor Greg Abbott to be signed into law very soon.
Senate Bill 7 will make several changes to voter registration, voting by mail, early voting and ballot counting.
Republican lawmakers in Texas have pushed the legislation. It comes amid a nationwide push by the GOP to crack down on alleged voter fraud. Major parts of the “election security” of the bill include a requirement to live stream counting of ballots and verification of signatures.
Earlier this week, and throughout the legislative session, Abbott has stressed urgency in securing Texas’ elections. Although there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 Election, Abbott nonetheless has made laws like SB 7 emergency priority.
SB 7 would create these changes:
- Ban mail-in ballot drop boxes
- Ban most drive-thru voting
- Limit extended early voting hours
- Require voters with disabilities to prove they can’t get to polls in order to get mail-in ballots
- Allow partisan poll watchers to record voters who receive help filling out their ballots
- Forbid local election officials from encouraging voters to fill out applications to vote by mail — even if they qualify
The Legislature is up against a Sunday night deadline to approve conference committee reports, like the compromise version of SB 7. Had the Senate waited until later Sunday to consider it, it could have left it in reach of a filibuster that could’ve killed the bill. The House is expected to vote on the final version of the bill later today.
Senate discussion on SB 7 regularly landed on the detrimental effect Democrats feared the legislation would have on voters of color and the significant portions of the bill that were written to outlaw some of the voting initiatives Harris County used in the last election.
SB 7 would ban drive-thru voting and the day of 24 hours of uninterrupted early voting the county offered — both of which proved particularly successful in reaching voters of color. An analysis by Harris County’s election office estimated that Black and Hispanic voters cast more than half of the votes counted both at drive-thru sites and during extended hours.
Other controversial changes include a new window of 1 to 9 p.m. for early voting on Sundays. State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, raised the possibility that change could hamper “souls to the polls” efforts meant to turn out voters after church services and questioned the justification for 1 p.m. start time.
“We’re going to be able to buy beer at 10 o’clock in the morning but we can’t vote until 1 p.m.,” West said.
But President Joe Biden has called the bill an attempt at voter restriction, saying in part:
“It’s part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year — and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans. In the 21st century, we should be making it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to vote.”President Joe Biden
Meanwhile, those in Texas have been vocal in their approval or condemnation of the legislation.
On Sunday morning, the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus issued a statement, saying in part: “Shortly after 6 a.m., the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 7 (S.B. 7), the most significant voter suppression legislation our state has seen in half a century. We aggressively fought this bill because it will disenfranchise racial and ethnic minority voters and voters with disabilities, including veterans.”
Texas Democrats said the bill reads like “the Jim Crow laws of the South,” and is in violation of the Voting Rights Act. State Democrats say it will result in a lawsuit against Texas.
“Every eligible Texan deserves to have their voice heard at the ballot box — regardless of their race, ethnicity, disability, gender, age, income, or party. SB 7 makes it harder for every Texan to vote.”
Texas Democrats, along with Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke, held a briefing to condemn the bill’s passage on Sunday.
But Texas Republican Senator Dawn Buckingham called the bill a “significant step in the right direction for Texas towards election integrity. I’m happy to vote for it.”
Meanwhile, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and the Texas NAACP held a joint conference Sunday afternoon at the Texas Capitol — to discuss how the bill’s passage would disproportionately affect people of color.
“Instead of now having a poll tax or a literacy test, they’re instituting measures like [eliminating] “Souls to the Polls” — who do you think uses that?” said State Rep. Ron Reynolds. “It’s Black and brown communities. And they’re doing it with surgical precision. What they’re doing is nothing more than modern-day Jim Crow, 2.0.”
‘The New Jim Crow’
Nationally, there have been over 250 similar bills introduced in the majority of states. They’re all aim to narrow voting rules. It spurred U.S. House Democrats to pass the “For the People Act” voting protections bill. It’s headed for the Republican-controlled Senate, where it’s unlikely to have an easy ride.
Back in March, the state of Georgia passed a sweeping elections bill, which was called by the state’s own Governor — a Republican — “Jim Crow in the 21st Century.”
The rewrite of Georgia’s election rules come after the state played a critical role in handing Biden the presidency and control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats.
Portions of this article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at www.texastribune.org. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.