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Texas Matters: Is Texas Making Voting More Difficult?

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Beto O'Rourke in El Paso on his way to becoming a Volunteer Deputy Registrar

The Republican leadership of Texas state government continue their drive for an overhaul on Texas elections that will make being able to vote more difficult for many. The lawmakers behind the bills say this is necessary because the state needs greater election security against voter fraud. Voting rights activists say that’s a sham and the real reason is to suppress the voting in communities more likely to vote for Democrats.

This week Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick a Republican condemned those who oppose these so-called voter security bills.

“Nothing has changed for mail-in ballots, election day or early voting. And anyone who says different is lying to you. Whether they write with a pen, talk with a microphone or hold political office,” said Patrick.

Patrick’s statement is clearly, absolutely and without a doubt 100% false.

Some major prominent Texas corporations this week joined the call to protect voters rights. That drew a verbal tirade from Gov. Greg Abbot.

“We have American airlines. We have AT&T. We have Dell Computers. We have others who have taken a position against the election law reforms. The CEOs of these companies and the leaders of these companies admitted, they had no idea what the Texas law said or what the Texas proposed laws say before taking a position against it. They need to stay out of politics, especially when they have no clue. What they're talking about,” he said.

Grassroots opposition to the bills continues to grow. On Thursday about a hundred voting rights activists gathered outside of AT&T's corporate headquarters in downtown Dallas . As KERA's Christopher Connelly reports, it's part of a statewide campaign to pressure corporations to oppose Republican bills that would make it harder to vote.

Beto O’Rourke

One of the leading voices raised against the Republican election overhaul bills is former congressman Beto O’Rourke.

“Texas Republicans are doing their best, trying their hardest to stop people in this state from being able to vote and participate in our elections. And it's not just anyone in this state, it happens to be young voters. It happens to be black voters and voters of color. It happens to be disabled voters, and it happens to be voters in big cities. And it happens to be voters who are shift workers in a state where the minimum wage is still $7.25,” he said.

Elections Administrators

The officials actually in charge of running our elections and following election law are the Election Administrators and county clerk in Texas. About half of the 254 counties in Texas have full time appointed Elections Administrators — they are non-partisan, highly trained in understanding the complex and often contradictory Texas elections laws.

Chris Davis is the elections administrator for Williamson County and is the legislative chairman for the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.

Chris Davis: Our association testified on a rather neutral with comments, questions for clarification and, and just an attempt to really educate the authors, supporters, sponsors and lawmakers on the processes that could be effected, adversely even, if these bills had passed, Texas Matters: Was the Texas Elections Administrators Association consulted as these bills were crafted?

Chris Davis: In the case of SB7 and HB6, not to our knowledge. As far as membership of the Texas Association of Election Administrators our members weren’t consulted in the crafting of this. We think a lot of trouble could have been avoided had we had that seat at the table with the authors and we could explain the consequences and there are some — right and proper consequences — of some of the language in these vast bills that are SB7 and HB6. I think there are some unfortunate consequences, if these things, if these bills were to carry through and be signed into law,

Texas Matters: This last election that we had November, 2020, how did it work out? Was, was it successful?

Chris Davis: It was a raging success in Texas. We did extremely well given the challenge and hurdles that we had as County election officers. And when I say that, I mean, election administrators, as well as County clerks and tax assessor collectors in their duties.

Texas Matters: But we're hearing that Texas has to overhaul its election system in this legislative session because of what happened in November. So, what happened in November?

Chris Davis: Or perhaps the perception of what happened in November and maybe the perception and amongst certain groups of what happened in November and other States and the automatic assumption that the very same thing may have happened in, in Texas. We reject that notion. Our elections were true, they had integrity, they had transparency.

Texas Matters: So are you aware of any sort of fraud that happened at a scale that would be considered significant?

Chris Davis: No, we're not. And I'm glad you couched it that way “at a scale that that's considered significant.” What does significant mean? Outcome changing, at the root level and no, we're not. I mean, it's true that voter fraud can happen more readily and absentee voting than it can. And in-person voting particularly in Texas there's measures like voter ID for in-person voting. But even that scale for absentee voting is it's still remote and it's still exceedingly rare. In our view, the rhetoric has outpaced reality. It's been asked of us, is a zero tolerance a reasonable standard for voter fraud? And none of us elections administrators, voter registrars, we do not tolerate election fraud. And in that sense, we do have a zero tolerance, but we're mindful of the costs of some of these measures. We're seeing a balance it's a bit skewed. People have often use the term “is the juice worth the squeeze.” And I'm not certain that the juice is worth the squeeze.

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