After a fierce partisan fight, quick nightly changes, and a 3 a.m. vote, Texas House approved a comprehensive Republican electoral draft on Friday that would increase postal voting rules, add several election-related crimes, and increase protections for partisan election observers.
Many of the amendments to Senate Bill 7, negotiated early in the morning between members of both parties and added by amendment with little or no explanation, were intended to reduce criminal penalties for violating the electoral law and criminal liability for mistakes made by voters and citizens limit those who help them cast a ballot.
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The 18 amendments agreed, including 13 by Democrats, resulted in a rancid ending to the debate that began Thursday evening, but they were not enough to win Democratic support.
“These turned this bill from very ugly to just ugly,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.
After SB 7 issued its first approval shortly after 3 a.m., the House’s final approval came on Friday afternoon with a 78-64 vote, which almost exclusively corresponded to the party line and sends the bill back to the Senate.
However, the bill does not look like the legislation that left the Senate on April 1, but only guarantees that a conference committee of senators and representatives will work out the final version – and the fight for changes to the electoral law in Texas is far from over final version of the legislation far from certain.
Pampered for a fight
Democrats came to the House of Representatives Thursday night to wage a fight and tabled more than 100 amendments to attack SB 7 provisions that they believed would make voting difficult, especially for non-white Texans and people with Disabilities who need help with voting.
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“We’re ready to fight all night,” said Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, in a Twitter post that included a photo of himself wearing a face mask labeled “Good Problems”, citing the late US Rep. John Lewis, a longtime Democratic warrior for voting rights.
Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, said SB 7 is designed to build declining confidence in the integrity of the elections, ensure that any vote cast is legal, and thwart election workers and others who coerce or force voters persuade them to cast ballots in a certain way.
“I don’t think this bill is suppressing votes. It is meant to help all voters,” he said, adding that several amendments were passed based on input from disability and civil rights lawyers.
Democrats argued that SB 7 was built on the “big lie” that widespread electoral fraud cost Donald Trump the 2020 election.
Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, said House members were more likely to be struck by lightning than by election fraud in Texas.
“You know what is undermining confidence in our elections? It is the lies that are told by politicians for their own and their party’s political gain in the face of all the evidence to the contrary,” he said.
Other Democrats said SB 7 would wrongly target urban centers and discourage voting by those who normally support Democrats, particularly Latino, Black and Asian Americans and Texans with a disability.
“Make no mistake, those who support this electoral law believe it will help Republicans and hurt Democrats. We all know that,” said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie. “It’s a direct attack on the right to vote.”
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“Purity of the Ballot Box”
As the debate began Thursday, Anchía made an exception to SB 7’s letter of intent that the bill should “preserve the purity of the ballot box” – a phrase historically used to deny black Texans the right to vote and all-white primary elections to create, he said.
“Do you know the story of it?” Asked Anchia.
No, replied Cain, adding, “I’m sorry to hear that.” The phrase was taken straight from the Texas Constitution, he said, later noting that he would consider changing it to change “purity” to “integrity or something”.
SB 7’s protection for election observers, volunteers who typically represent candidates or political parties, has been harshly criticized by several Democrats, particularly a provision that would prevent election officials from removing election observers unless they violate the law.
This provision opens polling stations to all kinds of calamities from election observers who have been used in the past to intimidate and harass black and Latin American voters, said Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas.
“It’s old Jim Crow dressed in what our colleagues call electoral integrity,” said González. “We should encourage more Texans to vote, not try to turn someone who makes a simple mistake into a criminal.”
González proposed the first amendment of the night, which would have gutted the bill by deleting its implementing clause. Almost two and a half hours had passed by the time the Republicans defeated it, and both sides had engaged in a long battle.
Then the Democrats brought a point of order, arguing that SB 7 could not be considered because the billing analysis was flawed and the pace was slowing even further. All work on the floor of the house was suspended for two hours and 10 minutes while parliamentarians and members of the house in both parties considered the rules of procedure.
At 10:30 p.m., Cain announced that action against SB 7 would be postponed for at least an hour while negotiations on changes continued. More than three hours later, the members of the House returned to SB 7, tackled the 18 agreed changes, and adjourned for the night – less than seven hours before the House was supposed to be back in session.
With the first amendment added, the phrase “and keep the ballot box clean” has been removed from the bill.
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Other changes made by members of both parties clarified that election observers could be removed for a “breach of the peace” or a crime at polling stations. Election observers must be warned of removal. and stated that election observers cannot take photos of private information, ballot papers, or “the marking of a ballot paper”.
Another change added law enforcement protection for companions and caregivers helping a person with a disability with voting.
The result left some die-hard Texan Conservatives lamenting the missed opportunity for more substantial changes and preparing to urge the Senate to move ahead with the state election process.
Meanwhile, the Democrats were looking in a different direction.
“You have your majority, but you know what? I’m looking forward to seeing you in federal court,” Martinez Fischer told Republicans on Friday. “You can vote today, but we’re all equal in federal court.”