Texas GOP lawmakers unveil sweeping version of elections bill
AUSTIN, Texas – The final version of the sweeping GOP elections bill, negotiated in private by two Republican leaders from the Texas House and Senate, was unveiled Saturday, setting up an intensely partisan showdown over a measure that now includes a longer list of new rules and restrictions.
With GOP majorities in both houses of the Legislature, however, there is little doubt about the ultimate fate of floor votes on Senate Bill 7, a measure Republicans insisted is needed to bolster flagging faith in the election system but Democrats blasted as a transparent attempt to make it harder to vote, particularly for those who support their party.
Opponents are already preparing to challenge many of the bill’s provisions in court.
“SB 7 is a ruthless piece of legislation,” said Sarah Labowitz with the ACLU of Texas, one of the groups vowing to sue if the bill becomes law. “It targets voters of color and voters with disabilities in a state that’s already the most difficult place to vote in the country.”
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The final version of SB 7 must be approved — without the opportunity for changes — by simple majorities in both the House and Senate.
The bill, which grew from 23 pages to 67 pages in the conference committee, includes:
- A ban on drive-thru voting or polling places inside tents or other temporary structures, with no voting allowed from inside a vehicle except by those with a disability who qualify for curbside voting.
- No 24-hour voting or extended hours for in-person voting, which could begin no earlier than 6 a.m. and end no later than 9 p.m.
- Polling places could not open before 1 p.m. on the last Sunday of early voting, a traditional day of “Souls to the Polls” events that are popular in Black churches.
- Those who vote by mail would have to begin including their driver’s license number, state ID number or last four digits of their Social Security number on the inner envelope. Ballots must be rejected if the numbers aren’t included or do not match what the voter listed on the vote-by-mail application.
- Those who help somebody cast an in-person ballot because of a physical limitation or language barrier would have to fill out a form listing their name, address, relationship to the voter and whether they accepted money or another benefit from “a candidate, campaign, or political committee.”
- Those who drive three or more people to the polls would have to provide their name and address on a form provided by an election worker and indicate whether they are also providing help to a voter based on a disability. Drivers related to all passengers would be exempt.
- The forms would be collected by the secretary of state’s office, which would have to provide them upon request to the state attorney general. It bans sending applications to unregistered voters that already have their name and address filled out, which has been proven to increase the number of people who get registered to vote in time.
- Vote-by-mail applications could be sent only to voters who request one, and a government official who violates the restriction could be charged with a state jail felony and receive up to two years in jail.
- Voter registration applications could not be sent with a name and address already filled in, a popular strategy to increase responses during voter drives.
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