A Republican-led bill that bans drive-thru voting, limits early voting hours and prohibits local election officials from sending mail-in ballot applications to people who haven’t requested them has passed in the Texas Senate. In the House, lawmakers are also working on a similar measure that would provide greater protection for poll watchers, more scrutiny for those assisting voters and restrictions on the activities of election officials.
GOP lawmakers say these bills are an effort to crack down on voter fraud, even though state investigations after the 2020 election show little evidence of irregularities. This move by the Texas Legislature follows a trend in other Republican-led legislatures across the country.
Juan Carlos Huerta is a political science professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. He told Texas Standard that large Texas counties, which are run by Democratic elected officials, worked to expand voting access in 2020, including updates to rules to make voting easier during the pandemic. The Legislature’s Republican majority, on the other hand, opposes most of those measures, and is working to write laws that would limit or end them. Huerta says that even though voter turnout was higher in 2020 than in previous elections, Texas continues to rank behind most states when it comes to voter participation.
“We still rank 45th in voter turnout among the voting-eligible population,” Huerta said.
SB 7, the Senate measure passed this week, addresses mail-in ballot rules and drive-thru voting, among other voter access limits. A provision that would have required people with disabilities to provide proof of a disability in order to receive a mail-in ballot was removed from the bill.
HB 6, which received a marathon public hearing Thursday night and Friday morning in the House Elections Committee, focuses on providing protections for poll watchers.
“This is significant because historically, poll watching is something that’s been used – I’m not saying all poll watchers either – but historically, this is something that’s been used to intimidate voters. You know, hey, we’re watching, we’re looking, we’re recording. … It does have a dark history, poll watching,” Huerta said.
Huerta points out that other states allow all voters to vote by mail. He says there have been few instances of fraud associated with this practice. In 2020, Harris County planned to send vote-by-mail applications to all residents as a pandemic-related way to allow more eligible voters to request a mail-in ballot. The House bill would prohibit counties from providing the application, which is a state form that must otherwise by downloaded or mailed from the secretary of state’s office.
“The large counties are talking about sending applications to people,” Huerta said. “They don’t send ballots to people.”
It HB 6 is passed by the House, it would need to be reconciled with the Senate bill by a conference committee, or one chamber could choose to pass the other’s bill instead. Huerta says to expect court challenges if one or both bills become law.