Texas Republicans passed a restrictive voting bill in the State House on Tuesday, after a months-long battle with Democrats who repeatedly fled the legislature in an attempt to block the bill.
The bill still needs a final Senate vote before passing to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign it. The legislation, a radical overhaul of electoral rules and regulations, will likely be challenged in court.
The bill, approved 80-41, is very similar to previous versions of the legislation. According to the representative of the sponsoring state of the bill, Andrew Murr, only one change was made to the bill the House agreed to last week – removing an amendment intended to prevent people who commit honest mistakes of being charged with criminal electoral fraud, as in the case of Crystal Mason, who was sentenced to years in prison for attempting to vote while on probation.
Once enacted, the law will ban overnight and drive-thru early voting, both of which were popular in Harris County in Houston during last year’s pandemic. While lawmakers previously considered a bill that would have restricted early Sunday morning voting, the final version of the legislation increases the number of hours on Sundays that counties must offer from five to six hours.
The bill also adds a new identification requirement for absentee voting. While signature matching was used in the past to verify voters’ signatures, voters will now require voters to include their driver’s license number, a similar ID card, or the last four of their security number. social media on postal voting requests and the envelope containing their ballot paper. The bill also creates a process to correct information on postal ballots.
Under the bill, supporters of polls and those assisting voters to vote will be subject to a series of new rules and regulations governing their conduct. Partisan poll observers will be trained and empowered to move more freely around the polling place and obstructing an observer will become a criminal offense. Those who help voters will have to fill out documents revealing their relationship and recite an oath for election workers.
Earlier drafts of the bill sparked two Texas House walkouts by Democratic lawmakers, who waited for time for two legislative sessions this year. More than 50 state Democrats flew from Austin to Washington, DC in July to deny the legislative chamber the legal quorum necessary to conduct business. They spent nearly a month in Washington arguing for federal election legislation that would end many of the changes included in the bill, but a quorum was finally restored in August after Democrats returned to legislature, with some citing the Covid pandemic in their decision to return.
Democrats declared the bill “Jim Crow 2.0” and said it was designed to suppress the votes of voters of color. Republicans say legislation is needed to prevent voter fraud, despite ample evidence indicating that voter fraud is extremely rare. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office spent 22,000 hours researching electoral fraud in 2020 and found only 16 cases of fake addresses on registration forms, according to the Houston Chronicle. Nearly 17 million voters are registered in Texas.