Texas’ ballot bill explained
AUSTIN – Texas is one of the last great states on the battlefield in a controversial battle over a Republican-led electoral overhaul.
At around 3 a.m. on Friday, the state House of Representatives passed an omnibus bill that would introduce a host of new voting restrictions in the state, sending the legislation to the state Senate.
Along with the late-night shift, there were plenty of twists, turns and political drama, setting up the controversial final weeks of the legislative season here in Austin.
Where is the bill
The bill was passed in the House mostly on party principles, in an initial vote and a ceremonial final vote hours later. Now the legislation, called SB 7, has arrived in the Senate, tasked with a few new amendments that have relaxed some of the original restrictions.
The bill has already passed in the Senate once, early last month, so there is no need to go through the entire committee process in the Senate and it faces two paths to follow. The most likely option is what is called a conference committee, in which some members of the legislature would meet behind closed doors and draft a final version of the bill.
Once the committee is finished, the bill would be sent to both houses for a final upward or downward vote, with no amendment allowed.
The other option, which agents from both parties in Texas find highly unlikely, would be for the Senate to “approve” the House’s version of the bill, sending it to the office of Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican.
The Senate will most likely decide on the way forward for the bill early this week and could decide its direction as early as Monday afternoon, when the legislature meets at 5:30 p.m. EST.
Mr. Abbott strongly supported the effort to change the state’s electoral laws, Tweeter Friday that he was anxious to sign the bill and “make TX law”.
What is in the legislation
In its current form, the bill would prohibit election officials from proactively mailing absentee ballots or their requests. It would also give much more power to supporters of the election observers, granting them greater and narrower access to voters and make it extremely difficult for election officials to dismiss observers for bad behavior. The bill also sets new penalties, and increases existing ones, for election officials who provide assistance to voters in a way that breaks the rules.
The new amendments proposed by Democrats during late-night negotiations last week also included some measures to expand access to the vote, including a provision that would require judges to notify people if a conviction would bar them from voting, rather than automatically accusing these people of a crime if they attempt to vote despite a previous conviction.
Late-night amendments Thursday and Friday last week stripped the bill of some of its more onerous provisions, including banning drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting; new rules for the allocation of voting machines which could force some municipalities to reduce the number of their polling stations; and allow partisan observers to videotape or photograph voters.
However, some of these provisions could be added 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 the margins in the State Capitol are a little smaller than they were years ago, the party still has a comfortable advantage in both houses of the assembly. legislative, leaving Democrats largely powerless to prevent passage of the bill.
Amid months of false claims by former President Donald J. Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states are marching forward to pass laws that make voting more difficult and change the course of elections. elections, frustrating Democrats and even some elections. officials of their own party.
- A key subject: Election rules and procedures have become a central issue in US politics. The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal-leaning law and justice institute at New York University, has 361 bills in 47 states that seek to tighten up voting rules. At the same time, 843 bills were introduced with provisions to improve access to the vote.
- The basic measures: Restrictions vary from state to state, but may include limiting the use of ballot boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting mail-in ballots, and removing local laws that allow automatic registration for postal voting.
- More extreme measures: Some measures go beyond changing the way people vote, including changing the rules of the electoral college and judicial elections, cracking down on citizen-led voting initiatives, and banning private donations that provide benefits. resources for election administration.
- Repel: This Republican effort led Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A sweeping voting rights bill passed in the House in March, but faces tough hurdles in the Senate. Republicans have remained united against the proposal and even if the bill becomes law, it would likely face considerable legal challenges.
- Florida: The measures here include limiting the use of ballot boxes, adding additional identification requirements for postal ballots, requiring voters to request a postal ballot for each election, limitation of who can collect and deposit the ballots, and even more accountability of partisan observers during the counting process.
- Texas: The next big move could happen here, where Republicans in the legislature brush aside objections from corporate titans and move on a sweeping election bill that is said to be among the toughest in the country. It would impose new restrictions on early voting, ban drive-thru voting, threaten election officials with tougher penalties, and give much more power to supporters of the poll.
- Other states: Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill that would limit the distribution of mail-in ballots. The bill, which includes removing voters from the state’s permanent early voting list if they do not vote at least once every two years, may be only the first in a series of voting restrictions to be promulgated there. Republicans in Georgia passed sweeping new election laws in March that restrict ballot boxes and make it a crime to deliver water within certain boundaries of a polling station. Iowa has also imposed new limits, including reducing the early voting period and in-person voting hours on election day. And bills to restrict voting were passed by the Michigan Republicans-led legislature.
Still, that didn’t stop a loud protest effort. Top Texas Democrats, including former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke and Representative Joaquin Castro, led protests against the bill in major cities across the state on Saturday. While their cries probably don’t resonate in Austin, the question could become a motivator among Democrats in 2022, when Mr Abbott is re-elected.
Democratic lawyers have vowed to file a lawsuit once the Texas bill is passed and enacted, following similar Democratic litigation strategies in Georgia and Florida.
What about corporate pressure?
It was largely ineffective. While Fortune 500 companies have been slow to push back Georgia’s new voting law and have mostly remained silent on restrictions recently signed by Florida, big companies like American Airlines, Dell Technologies and Microsoft have backed down. all ruled against Texas legislation shortly after its introduction.
Weeks later, a coalition of some 50 international corporations, local businesses and chambers of commerce signed a letter calling for expanded voting access in the state and broadly outlining their opposition to any effort to restrict the vote. But the letter stopped before specifically criticizing one or other of the ballot bills that were passing Texas House at the time.
The issue has particularly fractured the Greater Houston Partnership, the equivalent of the local chamber of commerce in the nation’s fourth largest city. After the group decided not to take a categorical stance in opposition to the voting bills, a large faction in the partnership split up, with more than 100 local leaders signing a scathing letter calling for the Texas proposals to ” suppression of voters ”.