With Democrats Back, Texas GOP Pushes Ahead With Voting Bill

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -
Texas State Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, left, speaks during a hearing over an election bill at the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas Republicans brought back their voting bill Monday with no changes as some Democrats returned to the Capitol for the first time since ending their holdout, making it clear that the bill is on track to become law after their 38-day walkout.

Dozens of people showed up to testify before lawmakers to seize their last chance for public input on the bill that will tighten voting rules in ways the GOP says will ensure election integrity and that Democrats say amounts to voter suppression for disabled people and minorities.

Senate Bill 1 would make mail voting a stricter process, increase liberties for poll watchers, and prohibit 24-hour and drive-thru voting, two ways Harris County — which includes Houston and where 44% of the nearly 5 million residents are Latino and 20% are Black — expanded options for voters and also offered protections against the coronavirus.

A House committee amended Senate Bill 1 on Monday to match language in the House version of the bill. The panel was expected to pass the legislation that will next head to a vote of the full House, leaving it just steps from the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign it into law.

Texas is the last of the big GOP-run states that has yet to pass more restrictive voting laws, largely because more than 50 Democrats in the state House of Representatives jetted off to Washington, D.C., in July to block the proposals. The maneuver kept the House from having enough members for a quorum that would allow it to conduct business. It was an escalation of a similar tactic Democrats used by walking out during the waning hours of the regular legislation session in May.

“The legislative intent of the bill is the application of this code and the conduct of elections be uniform and consistent throughout the state to reduce the likelihood of fraud in the conduct of elections, protect the secrecy of the ballot, promote voter access and ensure all legally cast ballots are counted, so Texans remain confident in a reliable elections system” said Republican Rep. Andrew Murr, the author of the bill. He told the House committee Monday that the language was inspired by bipartisan input.

Ending the walkout showed fissures among Texas Democrats, with some who wanted to keep holding out publicly criticizing their fellow representatives. But even Texas residents and activists who showed up to testify Monday acknowledged the end of what appears to be a losing battle is likely drawing near.

Far fewer people waited in line to speak compared to earlier in the year, when hundreds lined up. Texas’ current surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations because of the delta variant could have been one reason more avoided the crowded Capitol.