Texas Senate weighs election legislation billed by GOP as integrity and by Democrats as suppression

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — After a contentious election with lawsuits and unique operations during the pandemic, Texas lawmakers are weighing legislation addressing the state’s election system.

Republicans call the legislative package an effort to ensure election integrity.

“Overall, this is designed to address areas through process where bad actors can take advantage, because we want the people of Texas to be confident their elections are fair, honest and open,” State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said.

Hughes authored Senate Bill 7, the priority legislative package which would ban mail-in ballot drop boxes and most drive-thru voting. It would also require voters with disabilities to prove they cannot get to the polls in order to qualify for a mail-in ballot. The legislation would require authorization from top state leaders before any private funding over $1,000 could be doled out to local elections departments.

“Elections aren’t for sale,” Hughes said.

“If you cannot have confidence in your voting systems, then you have a breakdown of the Republic, and you have a breakdown of democracy.”

-State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham

Democrats cried foul over SB 7.

“This has suppression implications and ramifications,” State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said during Friday’s hearing.

More than 125 people signed up to testify on SB 7 on Friday, a few days after the hearing was postponed due to a parliamentary move Democrats used to block the bill from being heard.

James Perry, who told lawmakers he drove five hours to testify, said if Texas doesn’t pass this law, “you’re opening yourself to be replaced by someone who is dishonest.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, your opponent may be a cheater,” Perry said.

Jeff Miller, of Disability Rights Texas, called the bill “problematic,” arguing it would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Miller claimed it would treat voters with disabilities differently than other voters, “whether intentionally or not.”

SB 7 allows for poll watchers to record voters who need help filling out their ballots — but not the other way around. Hughes argued allowing partisan poll watchers from either side of the aisle to record the voting operation but not the actual voter’s choices would cement confidence in the process. But, as voters cannot bring recording equipment into a polling place, West worried it could cause voter intimidation.

“Why shouldn’t the voters be able to watch them, then?” he asked Hughes.

“Under this bill, we do not change the law about voters being able to bring recording devices into polling places,” Hughes replied.

SB 7 has a state price tag of nearly $35 million, according to a financial estimate by the Legislative Budget Board. It would also cost local governments various costs for training, software updates and new equipment. The local entities would be on the hook if the state does not fund the extra changes.

The head of the Texas Secretary of State’s elections division recently told lawmakers the state “had an election that was smooth and secure.”

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