Home committee approves HB 6 GOP election measure in party-line vote

Rose petals rain in the Capitol rotunda on Thursday.  The 270,000 rose petals were meant to represent the colored Texans who turn 18 each year and are eligible to vote.

In a party line, the House Elections Committee on Thursday approved a major Republican vote bill and sent the measure across the House, where a heated debate on the wording is expected.

House Bill 6 was passed without discussion, a common practice for committee votes.

Republicans argue that the bill is needed to tackle electoral fraud and increase public confidence in the election results.

Democrats say widespread electoral fraud is a myth and that HB 6 and other GOP-sponsored election campaigns are designed to suppress the right to vote, especially among young, non-white, or disabled people – voters who do not happen to be inclined to favor Democrats.

Last week, Witnesses to the Score traveled to the Capitol for the HB 6 election committee hearing – a meeting that ended at 6 a.m. on Friday, about 22 hours after it began.

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That public response was underscored by tech manager Michael Dell’s criticism of the bill on Twitter, in which he said, “Governments should make sure citizens hear their voices. HB 6 does the opposite, and we oppose it.”

Microsoft also issued a statement against HB 6 while American Airlines blasted Senate Bill 7, another far-reaching GOP voting measure approved by the Senate last week. Republican leaders responded by condemning corporations for sticking their noses in political affairs, while Democrats began pressuring other corporations to also announce their opposition.

More:GOP voting laws attract business opposition in Texas, much to Dan Patrick’s displeasure

HB 6 would:

  • Election officials are not allowed to remove election observers, who typically represent a political party or candidate, from polling stations, with the exception of crimes “related to the conduct of elections”.
  • Create new crimes for election officials who turn away election observers or obstruct election observers’ view.
  • Ask people who will help voters fill out a ballot paper to submit a document listing their name, address, relationship with the voter, reason for needing help, and assistance provided.
  • Prohibition of getting paid or offering compensation for leaving postal ballot papers or helping voters fill out postal ballot papers.
  • Improve the criminal penalties for electoral fraud.
  • Make it a state crime to vote in Texas and another state the same day.
  • Create a new crime for “voting,” defined as interacting with one or more voters in connection with a ballot, postal ballot, or request for a postal vote with the intention of “casting or measuring votes for a particular candidate.”
  • Prohibit local officials from emailing matched requests unless requested by a specific voter.
  • Create an expedited judicial process for complaints about elections or inappropriate voting before election day.
  • Accelerate the distribution of death certificates to local and state election officials.

Opponents quickly condemned the committee vote on Thursday.

Luci Baines Johnson, head of Texas Right to Vote and daughter of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, said HB 6 was an affront to the landmark law.

Jessica Ramirez poses for a photo at the Capitol on Thursday.

“In the 1960s, my father saw measures like poll taxes and literacy tests for who they were, an attempt to deny people of color the right to vote. The proposed measures we see today use different tactics, but the goal remains the same: specific groups of people refuse access to the ballot, “she said.

Disability advocates said HB 6 would create disproportionate barriers for voters who need help filling out a voting slip and put their assistants at risk of harsh criminal penalties for failing to meet the bill’s documentation and oath requirements.

“If we are serious about ‘electoral integrity’ and defending all voters’ access to the ballot box, bills such as HB 6 and SB 7 should be outright rejected as they are,” said James Meadours, former president of Texas Advocates attorneys for Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Governor Greg Abbott, who made improving electoral integrity a priority of the legislature, said HB 6 would help protect free and fair elections in Texas by limiting opportunities for electoral fraud.

“Our goal in Texas is to ensure that everyone can vote and that only voters are counted,” he said.

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