What’s in the restrictive voting bills being pushed by Texas GOP lawmakers?
Texas Democrats’ dramatic trip to Washington, DC, this week stemmed from uniform opposition to two voting bills being pushed by state GOP lawmakers: Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3.
Even as some controversial provisions in earlier legislation have been dropped, either bill would still bring a raft of new voting restrictions to the Lone Star State.
Here’s what you need to know:
What’s in Senate Bill 1?
Partisan poll watcher protection. Partisan poll watchers would enjoy broad new protection and access in Texas. This includes being “entitled to sit or stand near enough to see and hear the activity.” Effectively, the bill makes it illegal to obstruct or create distance for poll watchers in any way while also giving poll watchers more legal recourse against election officials.
Voting rights activists for months have sounded alarms about empowering partisan poll watchers and expanding voter challenges, arguing it could lead to voter intimidation.
Mail-in ballot restrictions. Identification requirements for mail-in ballots would include requiring the last four digits of a Social Security number or a driver’s license number on all vote-by-mail applications and ballot return envelopes.
Drive-thru voting ban. Each polling place in Texas would be “located inside a building” and “No voter may cast a vote from inside a motor vehicle” unless they met specific requirements.
Early voting hours. Early voting would be prohibited at polling locations statewide “earlier than 6 a.m. or later than 9 p.m.”
Tracking software. Election officials in large counties would be required to monitor “all input and activity” on voting machines via tracking software.
Video recording and livestream protocol. Election officials in large counties would be required to set up video surveillance systems, with livestreams made available to certain counties.
Assistance restrictions. Anyone who “simultaneously assists three or more voters” would be required to fill out a form detailing their relationship to the voters and whether they’re being paid by a political campaign or committee.
What’s in House Bill 3?
Though HB3 contains many of the same provisions as SB1, it differs in a few critical ways.
More poll watcher protection. The House version offers even more protection to poll watchers, requiring that they get a warning about behavior that violates election law before they can be removed.
Harsher unsolicited ballot application punishment. The House version would make it a state felony for election officials to distribute unsolicited mail-in ballot applications.
Early voting hours. The House bill provides for early voting hours from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Can Democrats actually block either legislation?
While their travel to Washington placed Texas at the heart of the national fight over voting rights, the group of Texas Democrats has acknowledged that they can only hold off Republicans’ push for new voting laws for so long.
That’s because after the current special session ends on August 7, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott will likely call another special session during which GOP lawmakers can advance their legislation.
In the meantime, the state Democratic lawmakers have met with members of Congress and urged them to pass federal voting rights legislation.
“We’re actually handing the baton to our Senate colleagues, our Senate members, to finish this race,” Texas state House Rep. Nicole Collier told reporters Wednesday.
But the legislative reality remains: there is currently no Republican support in the US Senate for voting rights legislation and Democrats do not have the votes to overcome the filibuster. Last month, Republicans were successful in blocking the For the People Act, banding together to vote against opening debate on the bill.