Despite an all-night debate and an emotional plea from Democrats to stop what they were doing, Republicans in the Texas Senate passed one of the country’s most restrictive voting laws on Sunday morning.
If the measure passes the Republican-majority House, Governor Greg Abbott – also a Republican – will almost certainly sign it into law.
The Washington Post reported that the legislation, Senate Bill 7, complicates mail-in voting by barring election officials from sending out unsolicited mail ballot applications.
It also empowers poll watchers and bans drop boxes and drive through voting, which proved popular in Democratic-leaning Harris County in 2020.
The bill would also ban early-voting hours on Sunday mornings, a move critics say is directly aimed at stopping Black church-goers from voting in a group.
Many Black church congregations will organise group outings to vote following religious services. That allows riders to carpool together, which helps both the elderly and individuals who may not have access to transportation cast a ballot.
Also in the legislation is a last-minute addition making it easier for the state to overturn an election by no longer requiring that evidence of fraud has actually altered the outcome of a race. Instead, a challenger need only prove that enough ballots were illegally cast that it could have made a difference in the race.
“Illegally”, in this sense does not necessarily mean “fraudulent”.
Debate over the bill lasted seven hours into early Sunday morning.
Boris Miles, a Black senator from Houston, objected to a provision in the bill requiring anyone who transports more than two voters to the polls to fill out a form.
He said many of the people he represents do not have transportation and rely on rides from other residents.
“You really have no idea how things work in my neighborhood,” he said.
Senator Carol Alvarado, also of Houston, directly accused the Republicans of passing the legislation because of Black voters.
“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room,” she said. “This is about Harris County.”
In 2020, the state saw record-setting early voting turnout in cities like Austin and Houston.
The bill also bars local election officials from altering election procedures without legislative permission, another direct attack on Harris County. Election officials in the county implemented various expansions to voting times and methods in 2020 in order to help people vote safely during the pandemic.
Critics of the bill, like Cliff Albright, the co-founder of the group Black Voters Matter, said the bill mirrored Jim Crow era laws meant to stop Black Americans from voting.
An earlier version of the bill included the phrase “purity of the ballot box”, which he pointed out was formerly used by white supremacists to limit Black voting.
“This bill is exactly in the Jim Crow tradition,” he said. “While not mentioning race, it is inarguably the case that these provisions are squarely aimed at Black and brown voters.”
Republican lawmakers in several states – Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Montana, among others – have passed similar bills intended to limit voting access under the guise of combatting voter fraud.
There has been no evidence that massive voter fraud took place during the 2020 election.