After months of contentious fighting, the Republican bill that will restrict Texas voting rights and access is on its way to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk. The bill passed its final hurdle in the Texas Senate on Tuesday along with a strict party-line vote.
State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), the author of the bill, celebrated the passage on Twitter by saying the bill made it “easy to vote, hard to cheat,” and thanked Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick for pushing for the bill.
Senate Bill 1 is seen by voting rights advocates as the most restrictive of the bills passed by Republican state legislatures across the nation following the defeat of former President Donald Trump in 2020. Though Republicans, including Abbott who initially refused to acknowledge the victory of President Joe Biden, have claimed massive voter fraud in 2020, no evidence of widespread corruption has ever been unearthed. Even an investigation by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton into Harris County found only 16 cases of voter fraud out of millions of votes cast, most of them involving improper addresses and none resulting in jail time.
Nonetheless, under the lie of widespread false votes leading to Biden’s win, Republicans sought to curtail voting access, particularly in ways that would affect minority voters.
One of the most onerous items in the bill is the banning of drive-thru voting. The practice was instituted in 2020 as a safety measure against COVID-19, but it quickly became a new favorite way to cast ballots. An analysis of Harris County voters showed that the option was particularly favored by Latinos, who made up more than half of all drive-thru early voters. Hughes tried to downplay the discriminatory nature of the ban.
“We don’t do 24-hour voting in Texas, but we do have a lot of opportunities to vote. We don’t do drive-thru voting, but we do make sure that folks who have disabilities have access to curbside voting,” Hughes said ahead of the Senate’s vote.
Democrats fought long and hard against the bill, mostly by staging walkouts that delayed its passage for months. Their efforts did produce some beneficial results. Language was added that would institute training for poll watchers. The empowerment of watchers was considered by advocates to be a chance for partisans to intimidate voters.
Hughes led the charge to remove an amendment to the bill that would loosen the punishment of those convicted of voter fraud through an error rather than intent. The amendment was proposed by Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), who had bipartisan support in the House. It was designed to affect people like Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman who was sentenced to five years in prison for voter fraud despite her saying she did not know she was ineligible, and her vote not even being counted. The amendment was widely supported but ultimately removed from the final version.
Other items from earlier versions of the bill, such as the restriction of voting on Sundays and empowering judges to overturn elections, were also left out after months of dedicated testimony and pressure from advocates.
Senate Bill 1 will go into effect three months from now, just in time for the 2022 midterm season to begin. Texas Democrats have redoubled their efforts to appeal to the United States Congress to pass election reform before the law’s deadline. If they don’t, many of the routes to voting favored by minorities in Texas will be closed.