Would this Texas bill protect elections or limit people of color from voting?

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FILE – In this Oct. 19, 2020 file photo, a voter drops their ballot off during early voting in Athens, Ga. After record turnout led to stunning GOP losses in the once reliably red state, Republican lawmakers are forging ahead with an aggressive slate of voting legislation that critics argue is tailored toward curtailing the power of Black voters. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

AUSTIN (KXAN/Texas Tribune) — It’s a bill that Republicans say would tighten election security. But Democrats say it would limit voting opportunities — especially for communities of color.

Texas Senate Bill 7 is now moving forward to the full state Senate floor after it was moved out of committee overnight. Here’s what it would do:

  • Ban mail-in ballot drop boxes
  • Ban most drive-thru voting
  • Limit extended early voting hours
  • Require voters with disabilities to prove they can’t get to polls in order to get mail-in ballots
  • Allow partisan poll watchers to record voters who receive help filling out their ballots
  • Forbid local election officials from encouraging voters to fill out applications to vote by mail — even if they qualify

The limiting of voting hours from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. — a hard rejection of 24-hour voting initiatives Harris County offered in November — may make it more difficult for shift workers to vote.

The bill is a significant piece in a broader legislative effort by Texas Republicans this year to enact sweeping changes to elections in the state that would scale up already restrictive election rules.

But as the bill moves closer to the Senate floor, it was also met with a chorus of opposition.

Meanwhile, voters wanting a ballot based on a disability would have to provide proof, including written documentation from the Social Security Administration or a doctor’s note, to qualify.

“What this bill does, whether intentionally or not, is in several ways treats voters with disabilities differently than other voters — both in terms of having to prove their disability and not trusting the people that assist them,” said Jeff Miller, a policy specialist with Disability Rights Texas. “And that’s problematic on lots of levels, but fundamentally it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The League of Women Voters raised concerns about increased barriers in urban areas home to Black and Hispanic voters and voters with disabilities. And organizations with histories of fighting unlawful voting rules, including the Texas Civil Rights Project and the NAACP, raised the prospect of litigation if the legislation becomes law.

‘The New Jim Crow’

Nationwide, 253 bills that would restrict voting access have been introduced in 43 states — prompting the Democrat-controlled U.S. House to pass the “For the People Act” voting protections bill. It’s headed for the Senate, where it will face a tougher time passing.

On Friday, President Joe Biden reacted to the Georgia elections bill that was signed into law by Republican Governor Brian Kemp, calling it “Jim Crow in the 21st Century,” and said the Justice Department was looking into the legislation.

The rewrite of Georgia’s election rules come after the state played a critical role in handing Biden the presidency and control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats.

The much-criticized elections bill does several things including:

  • require photo ID to vote by absentee mail — and cut the period of time voters can request to vote by absentee ballot
  • place limits on ballot drop boxes
  • giving the Republican-controlled State Election Board powers to intervene in county election offices, remove and replace election officials, and influence certification of results.

Additionally, the law makes it a misdemeanor to hand out food and drinks to voters waiting in line, which has increasingly become necessary as some densely populated Black areas often see long wait times.

Black population hubs like Atlanta are of particular concern, as large swaths of voters could have votes dismissed, overturned, or even be unable to vote within time constraints.

Another portion of the bill would expand weekend voting to an additional Saturday, not a Sunday, when many Black churches hold “souls to the polls” events that help churchgoers get to voting sites.

Several civil rights advocacy groups, including the National Urban League, said in a joint statement: “We must call this bill what it is: pure voter suppression… The coordinated effort to force this restrictive bill onto the people of Georgia is a devastating reminder that we have not yet moved beyond the dark history of voter suppression in this country.”

Kemp responded to the Biden remarks, saying “There is nothing ‘Jim Crow’ about requiring a photo or state-issued ID to vote by absentee ballot — every Georgia voter must already do so when voting in-person.”

Portions of this article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at www.texastribune.org. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.


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