Texas Republicans Eye Crackdown On Pandemic-Era Voting Procedures

A series of Republican-backed bills in the Legislature would standardize early voting, ban drive-thru voting and require medical documentation for mail voting.

By Jill Ament & Caroline CovingtonMarch 16, 2021 1:39 pm

Texas Republicans have made a wish list of sorts, outlining how they want elections in Texas to proceed after some counties changed their voting procedures last year during the pandemic.

Renée Cross is senior director of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. She told Texas Standard that Republicans are looking to change or standardize several voting practices that are normally left up to the discretion of county election officials.

Here are some of the proposed changes:

– Require uniformity in early-voting hours and days for all counties

– Ban 24-hour voting centers

– Reduce the period during which voters can return mail ballots

– Ban drive-thru voting

– Prohibit counties from sending out mail ballots and applications unless they’re specifically requested by a voter

– Require photocopies of identification when using mail ballots

– Limit mail ballots to voters who can produce medical documentation proving they can’t vote in person

– Increased civil penalties for election-code violations

– Grant more power to the Texas attorney general to investigate suspected fraud cases

Many of the proposed changes come in direct or indirect response to voting procedures adopted in Harris County last year. County election officials there experimented with several strategies to make voting more accessible during the pandemic, when many people were wary of risking their health by voting in person.

But some Republicans claimed that things like expanded mail voting, drive-thru voting and more, created greater opportunity for election fraud.

Texas took measures to stop some of Harris County’s new voting procedures at the time. It limited the county to one mail-ballot drop-off location, as opposed to the 14 it had planned. Harris County had also planned to send mail voting applications to every registered voter, not just those who had requested an application. The Texas attorney general sued, and the state Supreme Court eventually blocked that mass-mailing.

Cross says there’s a big divide in Texas over beliefs about perceived voting fraud during the 2020 election. And that divide is carrying over to the current legislative session.

“There’s no doubt that Republicans in Texas believe that voter fraud occurred in 2020,” she said. “The Harvard School of Public Affairs did a recent survey saying that 83% of Texas Republicans believe that voter fraud occurred. Compare that to 87% of Democrats do not think it occurred, while 53% of Independents did not think it occurred as well.”

But so far, the facts show that the Attorney General’s office election integrity unit found very few instances of voter fraud last fall. In December, the Houston Chronicle reported that the unit investigated 16 cases, all of them in Harris County, and none led to jail time.

“In its 15 years of its existence, the unit has prosecuted a few dozen cases in which offenders received jail time, none of them involving widespread fraud,” the Chronicle reported.

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