Texas Republicans introduced another set of sweeping bills that voting rights advocates say could make it harder to vote in a state that already has some of the most restrictive election laws in the country. Democrats left the state on Tuesday in a second effort to block the legislation from moving forward.
The bills — House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1 — were filed during the special legislative session called by Gov. Greg Abbott, which started last week. Republican leaders vowed to take another pass at approving voting legislation after Texas House Democrats blocked a previous effort in May to pass more voting restrictions.
HB 3 and SB 1, however, do not include some of the more controversial measures that were added to that previous bill in the final hours of the legislative session in May. Those included a provision that would have restricted voting on Sundays as well as a measure that would have allowed election officials to overturn election results if there are voter fraud allegations.
The bills are part of a nationwide effort by state-level Republicans to enact more restrictive voting laws following former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election. Trump and his allies have falsely claimed that the election was stolen. Twenty-eight restrictive voting laws in 17 states have been enacted since January, according to the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice.
The latest bills in Texas include new identification requirements for people voting by mail and prohibit local election officials from sending a vote-by-mail application to someone who hasn’t requested one.
They also ban drive-through voting and extended hours during early voting. Republicans in the state argue that these innovations — which were mostly used by Houston officials during the pandemic — opened the door to voter fraud.
James Slattery, a senior staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said voters of color and shift workers benefited the most from these methods of voting last year.
“And so you can consider the bans on those forms of voting to be a direct attack on voters of color in particular,” he said.
In addition, the bills expand what partisan poll watchers can observe during elections and prohibits poll watchers from being removed for violating election law. If passed, these bills would also create new criminal penalties for any election worker who “intentionally or knowingly refuses to accept a [poll] watcher.”
“Both bills make it harder to control disruptive partisan poll watchers when they are acting aggressively or disrupting voting,” he said.
The bills also create a slew of new criminal penalties and requirements for folks who assist voters at the polls, or people who assist others planning to vote by mail.
For example, they require that people fill out paperwork if they are taking someone who is not a relative to vote in person. And they require people to exit a car if there is someone voting curbside in that vehicle.