AUSTIN, Texas – The House of Representatives tabled a controversial GOP electoral bill late Thursday that will bring the legislation closer to implementation after the Democrats blocked it for weeks by exiting the Capitol in a protest that attracted national attention had fled.
The bill was passed 79:37 in a largely bipartisan vote. One Republican, San Antonio Rep. Lyle Larson, voted no.
Republicans are quick to track their priority calculation with just over a week in the special session. A final vote in the House of Representatives is still required on Friday. Then the Senate can approve the changes or ask a conference body to find a compromise.
By and large, Senate Bill 1 bans 24-hour and drive-through voting, which is popular with color communities, provides more protection for election observers, and adds new requirements for assistants helping disabled Texans vote. Absent voters would face new ID requirements but could have a new way to fix issues with their postal voting records.
Republicans say the changes are necessary to ensure the integrity of the elections and will simply make it harder to cheat.
But Democrats claim the result will make voting harder for blacks, Latinos, older and disabled Texans. You have compared the legislation to the electoral suppression of the Jim Crow era.
As partisan tensions already flared up during the five-week summer break, the all-day debate on Thursday was often bitter. Early on, spokesman Dade Phelan urged members to avoid the word “racism,” a rule that was quickly disregarded by a Democrat who stressed the bill’s discriminatory potential.
Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, said the legislation reflects input from Republicans and Democrats.
“All points of view have been and will be taken into account, regardless of party affiliation,” said Murr, the house sponsor of the bill.
The GOP-led House approved amendments to address concerns from disability rights advocates and to make some divisive sections, including a requirement that disruptive pollers be warned first before they can be removed. Critics have cited concerns that partisan election observers could harass or intimidate voters.
But Republicans then rejected almost every change proposed by the Democrats, leading Dallas Representative Toni Rose to voice her frustration.
“It is so insincere to me that you make these comments when you have no intention of working with your co-workers,” she said.
Texas is one of several GOP-led states pushing to tighten electoral laws after former President Donald Trump made false claims of widespread electoral fraud in the 2020 election.
Republican Governor Greg Abbott made electoral legislation a priority and promised to call one special session at a time until it reaches his desk. The House Democrats twice thwarted their passage by fling the Texas Capitol and denying Republicans a quorum.
Now that the necessary numbers for the business have been restored, another loss of work seems unlikely.
At least 40 Democrats were in attendance Thursday to fight the electoral law, but some continued their boycott.
With options to block the law dwindling, many Democrats place their hopes on Congress passing a federal voting law that would replace anything Republicans can get through the legislature.
On Tuesday, the US House of Representatives passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which requires states to obtain federal government approval before changing electoral laws. It is facing a surge in the US Senate, where there is a 50-50 partisan split.
There were relatively few changes to the bill, with the exception of a major amendment from Murr, which addressed some concerns from disability and civil rights lawyers. One of the most important is the requirement that election officials notify voters of any errors in their postal voting requests and give them the opportunity to correct them. Critics had warned that the new ID requirements for mail-in votes increase the risk of errors and rejections.
Another GOP-sponsored change offered by Rep Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, calls for audits of four random districts after the presidential and mid-term elections.
Legislation still bans the 24-hour and drive-through voting introduced by Harris County last year to make voting easier during the pandemic. According to district officials, black, Latin American, Asian and female voters made the most use of the electoral initiatives.
Election observers appointed by political parties and candidates still have “freedom of movement” in the polling station, only the voting booth is forbidden. Election officials who obstruct their view face sentences of up to one year in prison.
The Democrats successfully added an amendment that made it clear that nothing in the law would prevent disabled voters from demanding reasonable accommodation to which they are entitled under federal or state law. But all of their others have failed, including efforts to make Election Day a public holiday, have people with COVID-19 vote on the curb, allow same-day voter registration, and study the law’s impact on different races and ethnic groups .
The biggest fireworks display came in debates over the bill’s potential to discriminate, in which Republicans rejected Democratic claims of suppressing minority voters.
“I’m the grandson of immigrants,” said Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, who is of Lebanese descent. “Obviously I would never suppress my own voice. This bill doesn’t do that. These are falsehoods. “
At the beginning of the day, Phelan told members that he would appreciate that they “did not use the word racism”. But the request was soon ignored.
Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, noted that courts have repeatedly found that Texas electoral laws intentionally discriminated against African Americans and Latinos.
“Intentional discrimination against people of a certain race, is that racism?” Rep Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin asked him.
Phelan jumped in. “Ms. Hinojosa, ”he said. “We can talk about the racist implications of this legislation without accusing the members of this body of being racist.”
Hinojosa said she was not blaming anyone when there was isolated applause.
“Members,” Phelan interjected, “outbursts are inappropriate.”
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