Texas legislature passes election reform bill after battle

Texas legislature passes election reform bill after battle

The Texas Legislature approved a sweeping overhaul of the Lone Star State’s election laws Tuesday, sending the bill to Gov. Greg Abbott more than seven weeks after dozens of Democrats fled the state in an ill-fated attempt to block consideration of the legislation.

The Texas Senate voted 18-13 along party lines to pass the measure after the House voted 80-41 to approve it.

The bill includes provisions outlawing 24-hour polling places and drive-thru voting. It also establishes ID requirements for voting by mail and prohibits election officials from sending out applications for mail-in ballots if they have not been requested by voters.

Democrats argued that those measures were designed to make it more difficult for traditional Democratic voters, many of them minorities, to cast ballots. Harris County — the state’s most populous county and a major source of Democratic votes — offered 24-hour polling places and drive-thru voting in last year’s elections, while officials attempted to send out mail-ballot applications to 2 million registered voters.

“The emotional reasons for not voting for it are that it creates hardships for people because of the color of their skin and their ethnicity, and I am part of that class of people,” Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman said of the bill.

The U.S. and Texas flags wave outside the Texas Capitol on July 13, 2021 in Austin, Texas.
The Texas House Legislature voted 80-41 in approving election regulations.
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Republicans say the bill restricts local election officials from claiming powers they were never granted in the first place and have pointed out that polls must now be open for at least one extra hour during the state’s early voting period. In addition, counties with populations of at least 55,000 people must have polls open for at least 12 hours during a second week of early voting.

Abbott hailed the bill’s passage in a statement, saying it “will solidify trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

Chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and Texas Rep. Rafael Anchia (Center)
Texas House Democrats fled to Washington, DC, in protest of the voting restrictions bill.
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The bill was originally meant to be considered at the end of the legislature’s regular session in May, but Democrats in the Texas House thwarted that possibility by staging a mass walkout.

Abbott responded by calling a special session beginning July 8. Four days later, more than 50 members of the Texas House of Representatives flew to Washington, DC, on two chartered flights to draw attention to the bill and advocate for the passage of federal voting laws.

Voters cast their ballots for the general election at Victory Houston polling station, one of the Harris County's 24-hour locations, in Houston, on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.
Texas Republicans argue the voting reform bill still allows plenty of time for voters to head to the polls.

The lawmakers’ departure deprived the House of the required quorum to vote on the legislation and enraged Abbott, who vowed to keep calling special sessions until the bill was passed and threatened to have the rogue lawmakers arrested and forced to sit in the Capitol when they returned to Texas.

Democratic members have quietly been trickling back to Austin in recent weeks. The House finally reached the 100-member quorum necessary to consider and vote on legislation Aug. 19.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan counts votes at the Capitol in Austin, Texas on August 31, 2021.
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan counts votes at the Capitol in Austin on Aug. 31, 2021.

The Texas measure follows the passage of similar election bills in Republican-led states like Georgia, Florida and Arizona, which have drawn condemnation from Democrats led by President Biden.

Lawmakers are set to immediately shift into another charged fight over redrawn voting maps that could lock in Republican electoral advantages for the next decade. Texas added more than 4 million new residents since 2010, more than any other state, with people of color accounting for more than nine in every 10 new residents.

With Post wires

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