The U.S. Senate is now considering measures intended to counter voting laws like the one recently passed in Texas. But with Democrats split on the details, the Freedom to Vote Act faces an uphill climb.
The proposal would make Election Day a holiday, create a right to vote by mail in federal elections and spell out that governments may not diminish the ability to vote. The measure would also prevent gerrymandering in the redistricting process. In Texas, lawmakers will begin considering redistricting options next week as the Legislature begins a third special session.
Ben Wermund has been writing for the Houston Chronicle about Texas’ role in the drafting of federal voting measures. He told Texas Standard that when Texas Democratic lawmakers walked out of the Legislature and went to Washington during the summer, it lit a fire under congressional Democrats about voting rights legislation that was already in the works.
“It does have some elements that also seems like kind of a direct response to some of the things that are in the new voting law there in Texas,” Wermund said.
For Texans, the walkout was a way to ensure Congress focused on voting, even as other priorities took their time.
“I think the state lawmakers coming up here and spending a month lobbying definitely kind of helped keep this front of mind for people in D.C. who are also focused on other major legislative pushes,” Wermund said.
The Texas law includes restrictions on voting by mail – a practice that was already limited to people over 65 years of age, voters with a disability or voters in jail, and was further curbed under the new voting law. Under the federal proposal, all voters would have the right to cast a mail-in ballot.
Partisan poll watchers also gained expanded protections under the Texas law. The Freedom to Vote Act would set an 8-foot buffer between voters and poll watchers.
Another federal measure, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, would reestablish preclearance – the requirement for states like Texas that have a history of voting discrimination, to get federal approval before enacting voting law changes. It’s also a priority for Texas Democrats.