Texas Republicans Reveal Bills of Far-Reaching Voting Restrictions

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In their second attempt to pass a sweeping elections overhaul, Republican lawmakers followed the broad outlines of the first, including a wide range of measures to limit voting access.

Dade Phelan, the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and a Republican, gaveled in the beginning of the Legislature’s special session in Austin on Thursday.
Credit...Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images

Nick Corasaniti

July 8, 2021, 4:23 p.m. ET

Republicans in the Texas Legislature on Thursday fully unveiled their plans to overhaul the state’s election apparatus, outlining a raft of proposed new restrictions on voting access that would be among the most far-reaching election laws passed this year.

The G.O.P. bills, which will be debated in the coming days during the Legislature’s special session, largely resemble those from the Republicans’ initial attempt to pass a sweeping voting bill, which failed in the last legislative session after Democrats staged a late-night walkout.

Among many new changes and restrictions to the state’s electoral process, both bills would ban 24-hour voting and drive-through voting; prohibit election officials from proactively sending out absentee ballots to voters who have not requested them; add new voter identification requirements for voting by mail; limit third-party ballot collection; increase the criminal penalties for election workers who run afoul of regulations; limit what assistance can be provided to voters; and greatly expand the authority and autonomy of partisan poll watchers.

But the new bills do not include two of the most contentious provisions from the previous iteration. There is no longer a limitation on Sunday voting (it can now begin at 9 a.m.) and there is no provision making it easier to overturn an election.

The Republican bills are the first new pieces of voting legislation to be introduced by a state legislature since the Supreme Court’s decision last week to uphold voting restrictions in Arizona, a ruling that gave states greater latitude to enact voting limits.

Texas follows several other major battleground states controlled by Republicans that have passed substantial overhauls of their election laws and enacted new voting restrictions this year. Since January, at least 22 bills to make voting more difficult have been signed into law in 14 states, part of a broad, Republican-led push after the 2020 election to rein in voting access.

Since the failed attempt to pass the legislation during the spring session, Republican leaders in the Legislature have signaled an accelerated schedule for the voting bills in the special session. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who also serves as president of the Senate in Texas, set a committee hearing on that chamber’s bill for Saturday.

Though the special session of the Legislature will take place in a condensed 30-day period, the legislative process remains the same, with the bills needing to wind their way through each chamber in the hopes that one of the two can be agreed upon. If neither chamber can agree on a bill, then it is likely to go to a conference committee, where the final details of the legislation would be hashed out behind closed doors by a select panel of lawmakers.

In a possible attempt to appease some Democrats, the House bill includes two provisions that are liberal priorities: one for curing rejected absentee ballots and another that would make it no longer a crime to file a provisional ballot from a voter who was unknowingly ineligible to vote (known as the Crystal Mason provision, after a Texas voter who was sentenced to five years in prison for voting provisionally in 2016 when she was on supervised release for a federal conviction). The Senate version also includes a curing provision.

Nonetheless, the bills were swiftly denounced by Democrats, civil rights groups and voting rights advocates.

“There’s no doubt this is going to be a voter suppression session,” said Sarah Labowitz, the policy and advocacy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

Republicans and their allies defended the bills, known as S.B. 1 in the State Senate and H.B. 3 in the State House, saying that they were necessary to shore up election security and falsely arguing that they did not include any new restrictions.

“In Texas elections, we want to make sure it is easy to vote and hard to cheat,” State Senator Bryan Hughes, a Republican from East Texas who wrote the Senate version, said in a statement on Thursday. “Senate Bill 1 does just that by making sure Texans can cast their votes with confidence that they’ll be counted and the results will be reported accurately.”

Mr. Hughes added that “Texans do not back down from a fight or flee from responsibility.”

Other Republican-aligned groups attacked the Democratic criticisms.

“There is going to be a lot of hyperbole, a lot of rhetoric, the same type of stuff that we heard before, that the provisions of this piece of legislation are restrictive, are trying to make it harder to vote in Texas,” said Jason Snead, the director of the Honest Elections Project, a conservative voting group. “If you look at the actual bill text, you get a very different picture of what you’re seeing, and that the policies are far more mundane and mainstream.”

Mr. Snead noted that the bills add an extra hour of mandatory early voting during weekdays, stretching from eight hours to nine hours for counties that hold early in-person voting before the final week of an election cycle.

Democrats, however, may again try to either break quorum or find another legislative maneuver to block a Republican voting bill from passing.

“Every option is on the table,” State Representative Armando Walle, a Democrat from Houston, said at a news conference on Thursday morning.

He declined to give examples.

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