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Texas Legislature passes sweeping election bill and sends to Governor Greg Abbott for signature

Texas passes sweeping election bill
Texas passes sweeping election bill 06:29

The Texas Legislature sent a sweeping Republican-backed election bill to Governor Greg Abbott's desk on Tuesday, ending a months-long standoff with Democrats, who tried to defeat the effort in two separate walkouts

The Texas House passed the bill, SB 1, 80-41 last week and on Tuesday, the Texas Senate passed it 18-13. The votes were nearly along party lines. Abbott has said that he looks forward to signing the bill.

"Senate Bill 1 will solidify trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat. I look forward to signing Senate Bill 1 into law, ensuring election integrity in Texas," Abbott said in a statement.

Republicans have argued that the bill is  designed to clamp down on any fraud in elections and shore up voter confidence. 

"How much fraud is okay? None. How much suppression is okay? None," said Republican state Senator Bryan Hughes. "That's why Senate Bill 1 makes it easy to vote and hard to cheat."

Democrats, who have fiercely opposed the Republican-backed election proposals, have alleged the bill may make it harder for minority or disabled voters to cast ballots and are predicated on the false premise of widespread voter fraud. House Democrats broke quorum for 38 days this summer to stop the legislature from passing the election bill. 

Texas Legislature Voting Bills
The Texas State Capitol is seen in Austin on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. Eric Gay / AP

"I worry that this bill is going to take our state down a very dangerous slippery slope. And I think that this narrative is dangerous, this narrative that there's widespread fraud with no evidence. I think it's damaging to our democracy," said Democratic state Senator Cesar Blanco. 

The Texas House passed the bill last Friday after more than 12 hours of debate on Thursday, but Republicans in the state Senate wanted to remove one of the House-passed amendments before sending the bill to Abbott.

That amendment said that people can't be convicted for voting illegally if they didn't know they were ineligible to vote. The measure said that a person must know the "particular circumstances" that make them ineligible to vote and "that those circumstances make the person not eligible to vote in the election" in order to secure a conviction. 

Democrats previously pushed for this type of language to be included due to the controversial conviction of Crystal Mason, who is facing five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election while she was on supervised release. She has said that she did not know that she was ineligible to vote and her case is currently on appeal. 

Hughes said some prosecutors and others were concerned that the amendment may make it harder to prosecute cases of illegal voting. Democrats argued that the amendment would prevent prosecuting people for a mistake. 

The bill also eliminates drive-thru and 24-hour early voting, both of which were widely used in the Houston area last year during the pandemic. It would also expand early voting hours in some smaller and medium-sized counties; add ID requirements for voting by mail; ban officials from sending unsolicited absentee ballots requests; give more powers to partisan poll watchers; and create new rules, with potential criminal penalties, for election workers and people who assist voters. 

"I do believe that many of the changes to our election laws in this bill are not only unnecessary, but are far out of proportion to the level of any actual demonstrated fraud in our voting process," Democratic state Representative John Turner said. "There are too many provisions in this bill that restrict the ease and availability of voting and too few that expand it."

Texas Democrats staged two separate walkouts to try to kill the bill. During the regular session, Democrats broke quorum during the final hours of the session to defeat a previous election bill

Abbott pledged to call a special session after the election bill failed to pass in the regular session and brought lawmakers back to Austin in July. Several days after the first session gaveled in, more than 50 House Democrats left Texas for Washington, D.C., to deny a quorum. Lawmakers stayed in the nation's capitol for several weeks and urged Senators to pass federal voting rights legislation

The walkout continued into a second special session, but some Democrats returned to the Capitol earlier this month, ending the Legislature's stalemate. 

There has been no proof of widespread voter fraud in Texas during the 2020 election. The Houston Chronicle reported in December that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office spent 22,000 hours investigating voter fraud in 2020 and resolved just 16 minor cases. 

Several other states, including Florida, Georgia and Iowa, have also passed sweeping laws to overhaul their election systems. Democrats, civil rights and voting rights groups have challenged many of the new voting laws in court and lawsuits are expected in Texas. 

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