Lawmakers in Texas, a state that already claims the nation’s heaviest voting laws, took a major step on Thursday to make voting even more difficult, the latest in a host of Republican-backed efforts to restrict the vote. vote before the 2022 Midterm Elections.
The state Senate has approved an overhaul of the electoral law that would overturn many measures taken by counties last year to facilitate voting during the pandemic and impose new restrictions in their place, including limits on statewide on polling station hours, a new formula for locating polling stations. and the ban on drop-off boxes that were widely used across the country last year to assist mail-order voters.
The proposal would also prohibit anyone, except the voter who filled out a ballot, from depositing it in a letterbox or delivering it to an election official. It adds new paperwork requirements for voters who need help because of language issues or disabilities. And that would give so-called poll observers – untrained monitors, usually chosen by candidates or party officials, who are stationed at polling stations – the right to film voters if they deem them suspicious.
Texas’ measure follows efforts in Iowa and Georgia, where lawmakers significantly tightened voting rules last month. The Georgian measure has been criticized by the heads of several large companies headquartered in the state. In Arizona, two Republican-backed bills that would erect roadblocks by mail-in voting – the method used by eight in 10 voters – are approaching final votes in the state legislature.
American Airlines, which is based in Fort Worth, said in a statement Thursday that it was “strongly opposed” to the bill which was passed by the Texas Senate “and others like it”.
A similar bill was submitted to the Texas House Elections Committee on Thursday. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, has made stricter voting laws a priority for the current legislative session after party leaders and some lawmakers adopted the baseless claim that a wave of fraudulent votes was being responsible for electing President Biden last fall. (Although President Donald J. Trump won Texas, garnering 52% of the vote.)
Despite no evidence of significant electoral fraud in Texas last year, supporters of the bills in both chambers say these and other measures are needed to make elections in the state safer.
“This bill is designed to address areas throughout the process where bad actors can take advantage, so Texans can be confident their elections are fair, honest and open,” said Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Republican from Mineola, about 100 miles east of Dallas. , said during the Senate debate on the measure.
But David Becker, an election administration expert who heads the Center for Election Innovation and Research in Washington, said the legislation would make voting less secure by encouraging voters who would normally vote by mail or in person during early voting periods to vote on elections. Day. The little fraud that exists can often be spotted by analyzing the ballots issued before election day, he said, while fraud or cyber attacks are more difficult to detect and combat in the crash. ‘high turnout on polling day.
Another provision would delay the statewide requirement to use verifiable paper ballots until 2026, a move that would almost certainly make Texas the last state in the country to enforce the security measure. based.
Critics of the Senate bill said most of its provisions were aimed less at securing the vote than at making it more difficult, especially for urban voters and minority voters, two groups who tend to vote Democrats. .
They called the clause allowing partisan observers to videotape voters an invitation to intimidation, and noted that voters most likely to be registered – those who have language problems and need to help filling out a ballot – were disproportionately people of color.
Likewise, they said, clauses limiting voting hours to 6 a.m. 9:00 p.m., the drive-thru voting ban and changing the formula for allocating polling stations in counties with more than one million people would largely apply to counties with large cities like Houston , which extended its voting hours and allowed drive-thru voting in November.
The Senate bill was widely opposed by local state election officials, including those in most of the larger urban areas.
Stephanie Gómez, associate director of advocacy group Common Cause Texas, said in a video conference with reporters that the two bills “militate for legislation to codify widespread voter intimidation.”
“If you want to know which state will be the next Georgia,” she said, “it’s Texas”.