Some believe that bills moving through the Texas Legislature as efforts to combat election fraud are a solution seeking a problem.
With no evidence of widespread voter fraud or compromised voting and registration systems in Texas, Republicans, at the urging of Gov. Greg Abbott, have made election fraud an “emergency item this session.”
“In the 2020 election, we witnessed actions throughout our state that could risk the integrity of our elections and enable voter fraud,” Abbott stated at a news conference last month.
By his side, were Sen. Paul Bettencourt and Rep. Briscoe Cain, Republican lawmakers who had already filed several bills supporting Abbott’s urgency for restrictive measures, which voting rights advocates seized upon as Jim Crow era voter restrictions that would make casting a ballot more difficult and intimidating for many voters, particularly those who are low-income, disabled, elderly and people of color.
Not only do Republicans have the numbers to pass this legislation, they have the most outspoken, unapologetic, far-right conservatives in charge of ramming the bills through passage.
Presiding over the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick already pushed through passage of Senate Bill 7, a measure that would limit early voting hours, prohibit drive-thru voting and block local election officials from proactively sending applications for mail-in ballots to voters, even to those who qualify.
A faithful supporter of former President Donald Trump, Patrick lent his support to Trump’s efforts to identify voter fraud by offering to spend up to
$1 million for tips leading to voter fraud convictions connected to the election.
“I support President Trump’s efforts to identify voter fraud in the presidential election and his commitment to making sure that every legal vote it counted and every illegal vote is disqualified,” Patrick stated shortly after the election. “President Trump’s pursuit of voter fraud is not only essential to determine the outcome of this election, it is essential to maintain our democracy.”
Joining voting rights advocates in outrage against Senate Bill 7 were some of the state’s biggest corporations, including Fort Worth-based American Airlines, which Patrick acknowledged “stunned” him with its rebuke.
“Texans are fed up with corporations that don’t share our values trying to dictate public policy’” Patrick responded in a statement. “The majority of Texans support maintaining the integrity of our elections, which is why I made it a priority this legislative session.”
Meanwhile, House Bill 6 has been voted out of committee and is heading to a full House vote. The companion to Senate Bill 7, the House version would make it easier for the state to prosecute anyone who assists voters, especially with mail-in voting.
Presiding over House elections legislation is Cain of Deer Park. Unlike Patrick, who is presiding officer of the Senate as a result of being elected lieutenant governor, Cain was appointed by Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan to chair the House Elections Committee.
Cain’s selection for the role stunned voting rights advocates and others who are familiar with his inflammatory and insulting posts on social media and his reputation as racist and homophobic.
Elected to Texas House in 2016, after defeating incumbent Wayne Smith in the Republican primary for the District 128 seat, Cain made the Texas Monthly list of “worst legislators” in the 2017 legislative session, describing him as “uniformed and belligerent.”
The magazine noted that Cain, an attorney, attempted to eliminate funding for a state palliative care program, regarding it as a “death panel” without knowing that palliative care supports terminally ill people.
Politically aligned with the Freedom Caucus in the Texas House, a far-right leaning group of lawmakers who promote individual liberties, unfettered gun rights, limited and government, right-to-life policy among its tenets. His supporters include Empower Texans, Young Conservatives of Texas, the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America.
Cain favored opening businesses early into the pandemic shutdowns and at the height of the virus spread and supported spending $2.5 billion from Texas’ rainy day fund to help build the border wall yet he opposed previous efforts to tap the fund for pay for retirement benefits for teachers and relief for flood control and repairs as a result of Hurricane Harvey.
Among his most controversial social media comments, Cain responded to then-Democratic Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke’s comment about gun violence and confiscating weapons such as AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles, with a tweet, “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis.”
Twitter banned the comment and the incident was reported to the FBI as a threat.
Like Patrick, Cain is an ardent supporter of Trump, and like Patrick, rushed to aid the former president’s efforts to root out fraud and overturn the presidential election. A few days after the Nov. 3 election, Cain flew to Pennsylvania to interview poll workers and poll watchers.
Shortly after his appointment to chair the House Elections Committee, Cain spelled out his views on election fairness in The Cannon, a publication of the ultra-right Texas Public Policy Foundation.
“When legal votes are diluted by illegal votes, the very sovereignty of the people is under attack, Cain stated, adding, “the idea that our elections are free from vote dilution is a myth.
“With Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent declaration of election integrity as an emergency item, there’s never been a better time to restore trust and protect voters from the deleterious effects of allowing bad data, lack of voter ID and unreasonable expansion of receipt deadlines for mail-in ballots to exacerbate problems we saw in Texas as well as states like Pennsylvania and Virginia.”
Bills Cain has authored this session include, House Bill 329 which would purge voters from rolls and make it more difficult to become an election judge and House Bill 330, which would subject election judges to state felony offenses for missteps, make it harder for non-English speakers to vote and make voter registration more difficult.
Cain posted on Facebook a list of all the election bills that have been introduced in the House this session.
Given his uncompromising commitment to harsh voting restrictions, it was not surprising that Cain abruptly shut down public testimony on House Bill 6 last month when Democratic Rep. Nicole Collier, chair of the House Legislative Black Caucus, was called to testify. For procedural reasons, the hearing had to be rescheduled.
Some now question the motives behind Phelan’s appointment of Cain to the head the elections committee.
Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, won bipartisan support for House Speaker after successfully securing a $1.7 billion Hurricane Harvey flood mitigation package in 2019, using rainy day funds and support from lawmakers in both parties – except for Cain and a couple of others.
“Clearly, Republicans are looking at demographic changes and larger numbers of millennials reaching voting age and they are worried about the future,” said Michael Adams, professor and interim chair of political science in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University. “This is clearly an effort to suppress the vote to hold onto power.”
From a procedural standpoint, Phelan need to balance his committee assignments “giving some to Democrats, some to moderate Republicans and some to placate conservatives,” said Brandon J. Rottinghaus, professor and Pauline Yelderman Endowed Chair of political science at the University of Houston.
“Chairman Cain’s choice was an easy appointment to signal, no matter if the legislation passed or in what form, the speaker was sympathetic to claims about voter fraud from some Republican members,” Rottinghaus added.
Others say Phelan’s decision was calculated and deliberate to carry out the agenda of Abbott, Patrick and other conservatives in the Republican Party.
“Just because Dade Phelan has manners and doesn’t wave his hands around or talk loudly like Dan Patrick, doesn’t mean he doesn’t support these restrictive election bills,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic strategist and founder and director of the Lone Star Project, an initiative supporting the election of Democrats. “Joe Straus also has good manners and enjoyed bipartisan support, but he was responsible for the state’s horrible, gerrymandered maps and election laws that are more restrictive than most states.”
“These election bills are a red-meat issue for the Republicans and they are going to pass them,” Angle said.
After House Bill 6 was passed on Thursday (April 8), Texas Democrats called it the worst form of voter suppression.
“Texas House Republicans have once again explicitly placed themselves on the side of white supremacy, and against the constitutional rights of Texans,” said Rose Clouston, voter protection director for the Texas Democratic Party.
The bill is a “flagrant attack on the voting rights of people of color and voters with disabilities. By passing this bill through the House Elections Committee, these Republicans are trying to shut down the voices of Black and Brown voters across our state. This is shameful.”