The contentious fight over voting rights takes center stage in Texas, where, for the second time this year, Republicans are trying to pass legislation that would put new restrictions on voting in the state.
During a special session called by Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas state legislature is set to vote this week on two restrictive voting bills, which moved forward yesterday after a heated debate.
Critics say the measures unfairly harm minority voters.
Democratic House Representative Erin Zwiener believes the push for tighter voting restrictions is based on fear by Republicans.
"Texans are still struggling in the wake of COVID; we have severe learning disruptions for our students, and not a good plan to correct that; and we have trouble even keeping the lights on," Zwiener told Correspondent Mireya Villarreal. "So, I think [the Republicans] are deathly afraid that Texans are about to figure out that they have better options, and are doing everything they can to cling on to power."
If there is one thing on which lawmakers on both sides of this issue agree, it's that things will move quickly.
Bills filed by Republican state senators would:
- include new ID requirements for people voting by mail;
- ban 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting sites; and
- increase criminal penalties for election officials, or people assisting voters.
Hundreds of Texans from across the state flocked to Austin, the capital, over the weekend and gave public testimonies in marathon, all-night hearings. One woman declared, "What we see today is greater suppression in legislation to provide less access to the polls."
"Texas already has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country," said Zweiner, "and this is going to create even more hurdles to people voting."
Republican State Senator Bryan Hughes, who wrote the Senate bill, described the proposed legislation as "a common-sense reform bill that's going to help every Texan vote."
Villarreal asked Hughes, "The Democrats will say this is more about [Republican claims] that the election was stolen back in November, and that these restrictions are put in place to punish voters moving forward."
"Senate Bill 1 is about protecting voters from folks who are trying to steal votes, from ballot harvesters, from unscrupulous workers, folks who are trying to influence, coerce, mislead, literally steal ballots," Hughes replied. "That happens. Still happens."
Democrats were able to block a similar set of Republican-backed voter restriction bills earlier this year by. They say they are considering that again, as well as other options.
The state's Republican Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick, said that if that happens, he will "step in" to protect the legislative process.