AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Thursday, more than 200 people, including former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke, signed up to testify before the Texas House Elections Committee about a proposal to further tighten voting rules in the state.
But an error by the committee chair, Rep. Briscoe Cain, forced the hearing to abruptly end before a single member of the public could speak for or against House Bill 6.
Cain, a Republican from Deer Park, failed to set a time for the committee to reconvene after lunch. In doing so, Cain committed a procedural error that could have doomed the bill further on in the legislative process.
He said the discussion of the bill will be rescheduled.
“Please forgive me for my error,” Cain said. “On behalf of the committee, I want to extend my sincerest gratitude to all for traveling here today.”
Cain is the author of HB 6, which has the backing of Gov. Greg Abbott. Abbott listed election integrity as one of his legislative priorities last month.
The bill would, among other things, require someone assisting a voter with a mail-in ballot to provide identification and a reason for helping that person with their ballot. It would also block public officials from sending unsolicited mail-in ballot applications to voters.
“It is voter suppression,” said state Rep. John Bucy, a Williamson County Democrat who sits on the committee. “It’s going to punish assistants who make honest mistakes on filling out information. Now, it’s asking for more information.”
Other bills filed in the Texas Legislature would ban extended voting hours and drive-thru voting.
O’Rourke spoke out after the hearing against the attempts to limit voting options.
“You have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than you do participating in voter fraud,” he said.
Though cases of voter fraud are extremely rare, political experts say the fraud fight in Texas is more about partisanship than proof.
“It looks a lot like the more familiar efforts by the Republican majority to preserve their majority status by shaping what the electorate looks like,” Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, said.
Cain bucked a Texas Legislature tradition by not allowing Rep. Nicole Collier, who is not on the Election Committee, to ask questions of the bill author. Committee chairs often allow high-ranking members of the legislature to join committee hearings.
Collier happens to also be the chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. No Black lawmakers sit on the Elections Committee.