AUSTIN – Texas is one of the last major battlefield states to find itself in a controversial battle over a Republican-led election law overhaul.
At around 3 a.m. on Friday, the State House of Representatives passed a collective bill introducing a series of new voting restrictions in the state and referring the legislation to the Senate.
With the passage in the night came many twists and turns and political dramas that were controversial in the last few weeks of the legislature here in Austin.
Where the bill is
The bill was largely passed in the House by party politics, with an initial vote and a solemn final vote hours later. Now the legislation called S.B. 7, has arrived in the Senate, loaded with some new changes that have softened some of the original restrictions.
The law was passed once by the Senate at the beginning of last month, so that it does not have to go through the entire committee process in the Senate and has two paths to go. The most likely option is a so-called conference committee, in which selected members of the legislature gather behind closed doors and work out a final version of the bill.
After the committee has concluded, the draft law will be sent back to both chambers for a final vote, with no changes being allowed.
The other option, considered highly unlikely by representatives of both parties in Texas, is for the Senate to “approve” the House version of the bill and send it to the desk of Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican.
The Senate will most likely decide on another path for the law earlier this week and could decide its direction as early as Monday afternoon when the legislature meets at 5:30 p.m. Easter time.
Mr. Abbott has vociferously supported efforts to amend the state’s electoral laws. tweet on Friday he was looking forward to signing the bill and “making it TX law”.
What is in the legislation?
As it stands, the bill would prevent election officials from proactively sending postal ballot papers or motions on their behalf. This would also greatly empower partisan poll observers, give them better and closer access to voters, and make it extremely difficult for election officials to remove observers for bad behavior. The bill also provides new and existing penalties for election officials who help voters in ways that are against the rules.
New amendments proposed by Democrats in last week’s nightly negotiations also included some measures to expand access to voting, including a requirement that judges must inform someone if a conviction prohibits them from voting instead Automatically burdening individuals with a crime if they try to vote despite their previous belief.
The Thursday and Friday nightly changes last week released the bill from some of its more onerous provisions, including bans on drive-through voting and 24-hour voting; new rules for the allocation of voting machines that could force some municipalities to reduce their number of polling stations; and enable partisan election observers to video or photograph voters.
However, some of these provisions could be added back by the Senate in a conference committee and the Democratic amendments could be dropped.
What Democrats are Doing to Oppose the Bill
Texas is under complete Republican control, and although margins in the State Capitol are a little smaller than years ago, the party still has a comfortable advantage in both houses of the legislature, leaving the Democrats largely powerless to prevent the bill from being passed .
Amid months of false claims by former President Donald J. Trump that the 2020 elections were stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states are marching forward to pass laws that make it harder to vote and change the way elections are conducted, something the Democrats and even some do Elections frustrate officials in their own party.
- A key issue: The rules and procedures of elections have become a central issue in American politics. The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal-minded institute for law and justice at New York University, counts 361 bills in 47 states trying to tighten the voting rules. At the same time, 843 bills were introduced with provisions to improve access to voting.
- The basic measures: Restrictions vary by state, but may include restricting the use of ballot boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting postal votes, and removing local laws that allow automatic registration for postal voting.
- Other extreme measures: Some measures go beyond changing voting, including adjusting electoral college and judicial electoral rules, curbing citizen-led electoral initiatives, and banning private donations that provide resources for managing elections.
- Pushback: These Republican efforts have led the Democrats in Congress to find a way to get federal electoral laws passed. A comprehensive draft voting rights was passed by parliament in March, but faces difficult obstacles in the Senate. Republicans have agreed against the proposal, and even if the law did go into effect, it would likely face major legal challenges.
- Florida: The last state to restrict voting. Measures include restricting the use of dropboxes, adding more identification requirements for postal ballot papers, requiring voters to request a postal vote at every election, limiting who can collect and submit ballot papers, and further empowering partisan observers during the election counting process.
- Texas: The next big step could come here, where the Republicans in the legislature put aside the objections of the corporate titans and put forward a sweeping electoral law that would be among the strictest in the nation. This would impose new restrictions on early voting, prohibit drive-through voting, threaten election officials with harsher penalties, and highly empower partisan poll observers.
- Other states: Georgia Republicans passed sweeping new voting laws in March that restrict ballot boxes and make the distribution of water within certain limits of a polling station an offense. Iowa has also set new boundaries, including reducing the deadline for early voting and personal voting hours on election day. And bills to restrict voting have been passed by Republicans in Arizona and Michigan.
But that did not stop a loud protest effort. Leading Texas Democrats, including former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke and Representative Joaquin Castro, held demonstrations against the bill in major cities across the state on Saturday. While their screams are unlikely to resonate in Austin, the issue could become a motivating factor among Democrats in 2022 if Abbott stands for re-election.
Democratic attorneys have promised that once Texas law is passed and incorporated into law, they will file a lawsuit, using similar Georgia and Florida democratic litigation strategies.
What about corporate pressure?
It was largely ineffective. While Fortune 500 companies came too late to roll back Georgia’s new electoral law and were largely silent about the recently signed Florida restrictions, big corporations like American Airlines, Dell Technologies and Microsoft spoke out against the Texas law soon after it was passed.
Weeks later, a coalition of around 50 international corporations, local businesses and chambers of commerce signed a letter calling for expanded access to voting in the state and detailing their opposition to any efforts to restrict voting. But the letter stopped specifically criticizing one of the voting bills going through the Texas House at the time.
The problem in particular has broken the Greater Houston Partnership, which corresponds to the local chamber of commerce in the fourth largest city in the country. After the group decided not to oppose the voting laws directly, a large faction of the partnership broke up and more than 100 local leaders signed a stinging letter calling the Texas proposals “voter suppression”.