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Texas GOP's Controversial Voting Bills Advance In Special Session

Fog enshrouds Texas Capitol dome on Jan. 8, 2019, opening day of the 86th Texas Legislature. KEN HERMAN/American-Statesman
Ken Herman/USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Co
Fog enshrouds Texas Capitol dome on Jan. 8, 2019, opening day of the 86th Texas Legislature. KEN HERMAN/American-Statesman

After an all night hearing over the weekend, Texas lawmakers advanced a controversial package of voting restrictions. It’s the second push on the measures. Democrats had walked out before a previous vote during the regular legislative session.

All night Saturday and into Sunday morning, hundreds of witnesses came to the Texas Capitol to testify about Senate Bill 1and House Bill 3.

The bills are the latest effort by Republican lawmakers in various states to pass laws that will make it more difficult to vote — especially for people of color. Supporters say it’s about voter integrity — a contention that many witnesses challenged.

“My name is Cloey Goodman I’m here representing myself and there’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud here in Texas," Goodman said. "I know you’ve heard anecdotes but anecdotes are not a good foundation for legislation.”

Jack M. Finger, a San Antonio Republican, testified that Texas offers multiple ways to vote — including two weeks of early voting.

“How much more does Texas have to bend over backwards for the voter?" he said. "And voting is not supposed to be easy. That’s what our men died for.”

This is the second time this summer that Texas lawmakers are wrestling with elections legislation. Earlier, Democratic House members killed that voter restriction bill with a quorum busting walkout. This forced Governor Greg Abbott to call a Special Session. Two of the most controversial elements are gone – limiting Sunday morning voting hours and allowing a judge to toss election results without evidence of fraud.

However, the legislation still includes a ban on drive-thru and 24-hour voting, makes mail-in voting more difficult, increases criminal penalties for voting mistakes, and gives partisan poll watchers more authority at voting sites.

Voting rights advocates — like former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke — testified that they continue to oppose the bill.

“Whether it’s ending 24-hour voting or allowing free reign to poll watchers or make it harder to vote by mail or absentee ballot, this is going to make it tougher and not easier for those who should have a say in our elections,”

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Governor Abbott explained that the bill is needed. He said banning drive-thru voting protects the privacy of voters.

“You’re going to have people in the car with you — and it could be somebody from your employer or somebody else — who could have a kind of coercive effect.”

Abbott compared Texas voting to President Biden’s home state of Delaware.

“It’s far easier to vote and yet nobody is claiming that there’s some kind of voter suppression taking place in Delaware," he said.

In the last election, Texas voter turnout was 60 percent. In Delaware, it was 70 percent.

Up I-35 in Dallas, the Conservative Political Action Conference — or CPAC — was held this weekend. Abbott did not speak but Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick opened the conference, discussing how important Texas elections are to Republicans nationwide.

Meanwhile in Austin, the Senate hearing lasted 14 hours. The Texas House committee heard witnesses until 6am Sunday.

Both committees passed their election bills and they advance to floor votes in the coming days.

The question remains — what will the Democrats do this time?

“I’m here to tell you that all this hateful rhetoric — all this hateful legislation needs to end," said Armando Walle, a Representative from Harris County. "But we are here now. And we are going to fight these bills tooth and nail. And every option is on the table. We’re going to use every parliamentary means available to us to stop these bills.”

That could include another quorum busting walk out to torpedo the voting restrictions bill again.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi