An omnibus election bill allegedly aimed at election integrity moved out of a House committee Thursday. Claiming to be concerned, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of a series of election-related bills. Despite claiming to care about “integrity,” Abbott and Texas Republicans continue to rely on debunked claims of 2020 voter fraud and concerns about restoring trust in the process to push the changes.
None of the law’s proponents, including the governor, acknowledge the self-created nature of the alleged concerns of trust in the process. In fact, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Texas state Rep. Briscoe Cain volunteered with the Trump campaign in an attempt to overturn Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results.
Cain also reportedly shut down a hearing instead of taking questions from Democratic state Rep. Nicole Collier. Collier also chairs the Texas Legislative Black caucus.
According to NBC News, House Bill 6 establishes criminal penalties for elected officials who send out absentee ballots without a voter first requesting the ballot. Another provision could pose criminal liabilities on poll watchers for alleged mistreatment of poll watchers.
A Senate companion bill, Senate Bill 7, would prohibit drive-through voting, limit extended early voting hours, and also prevent election officials from mailing absentee ballots to eligible voters. Closely watching several bills moving through the Texas legislature, the Texas Civil Rights Project threaded action items for concerned residents.
Voting rights advocates, including Stacey Abrams, founder of Fair Fight Action, challenged provisions of the law which they saw could strip control from local election boards, increase penalties for voting-related criminal charges, and require those helping voters in need of assistance to disclose why the voter needs help in addition to an oath already present.
Several of the proposed measures take direct aim about efforts to ease burdens during last year’s election in the middle of a global health pandemic. Election officials in Harris County, where Houston is located, sent out absentee ballot applications to voters 65 and older. A court order prevented the mailing of absentee ballots to all eligible voters in the county, the Texas Tribune reports.
One of several states that requires an excuse for voting by absentee ballot, Texas did not waive the requirement during the pandemic. A court decision held that lack of immunity to COVID-19 did not qualify as an excuse for absentee ballot purposes. But the court did leave it up to individual voters to determine whether a health condition could rise to the level of disability to fall within the listed excuses available to request an absentee ballot.
A scroll through the 540-page public comment document for HB 6 shows various reactions and responses to the proposed legislation. A registered nurse from Austin, Texas, raised concerns about the legislation’s potential impact, making it difficult to give rides to people with disabilities or otherwise requiring assistance.
She also encouraged several measures expanding ballot access, including online voter registration. Texas is one of the few states that does not permit a voter registration application online. But a limited exception was carved out last year, permitting individuals who are updating their driver’s license to register online.
Observing the fallout from the passage of a restrictive voting law in Georgia, several Texas-based corporations and CEOs have already spoken out against HB 6, including American Airlines, HP, Dell, and Dow.
The same day the MLB announced it would pull its all-star game from Georgia, hundreds of corporate leaders released a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to voting rights and stressing its importance. But the statement stops short of calling for the passage of new federal legislation to address elections and voting rights.
Upset about the corporate pressure, Texas Republicans have dug in their heels, insisting this is about restoring trust in a process that they and their presidential nominee undermined.