Texas legislature considers contentious bills in extraordinary session

The Texas legislature is back to work for a special session that is expected to tackle key Conservative issues and renew the fight for voting rights.

Texas Democrats left a session in May to block a bill that would have revised the state’s election laws. Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican leaders said passing an election bill was one of their top priorities during the special session.

Two bills introduced by Republicans are closely aligned with the final version of SB 7, the bill that was not passed in May. Both chambers will hold public hearings on their bills on Saturday. For this session, the House bill is HB 3 and the Senate version is SB 1.

Neither includes two of SB 7’s more controversial provisions. One of those proposals would have pushed the start of early voting on Sunday to 1 p.m., which critics say harms traditionally Souls to the Polls. mobilization of voters in black churches. The other provision omitted from the old bill would have lowered the standard for overturning election results based on allegations of fraud.

Here are some of the highlights of the House and Senate election bills:

Prohibition of voting while driving

The House and Senate versions of the bill would ban drive-by voting. The practice was used by Harris County, home of Houston, in the November 2020 election and local elections earlier this year.

On the eve of the general elections, a judge dismissed a lawsuit which tried to prevent officials from counting around 127,000 ballots cast at drive-thru voting sites. An analysis by the Texas Civil Rights Project found that more than half of voters who used drive-thru voting in Harris County in November 2020 were black, Hispanic or Asian.

Changes to early voting hours

The House and Senate bills propose to set slightly different times for the start and end of early voting each day. Both bills state 6 a.m. as the start time for early voting. SB 1 would require early voting to end at 9 p.m., while HB 3 would allow voting until 10 p.m. In 2020, Harris County offered a handful of 24-hour early voting days before the general election.

Sunday’s early voting would be extended by one hour compared to current law in some counties. HB 3 would require counties of at least 55,000 people to hold at least six hours of voting on the last Sunday of early voting, but it could not start before 9 a.m. SB 1 would require counties of at least 30,000 people hold at least six hours of early voting on the last Sunday of early voting, and said voting cannot begin until 6 a.m. Currently, these counties are required to hold five hours of voting on Sundays.

The two bills would also expand early voting hours in some mid-sized and smaller counties. Currently, counties with at least 100,000 inhabitants must offer at least 12 hours of voting each weekday of the last week of early voting. The House bill would extend this to counties with at least 55,000 inhabitants, while the Senate would allow longer hours for counties with at least 30,000 inhabitants.

Voter identification and other requirements for postal voting

Texas already has some of the toughest postal voting requirements in the country. To vote by mail, a voter must be 65 years of age or older, disabled, out of county on polling day and during the early voting period or in jail but otherwise eligible.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill add identification requirements for postal ballot requests and returned ballots. The bills would require voters to provide a driver’s license or state identification number or the last four digits of their social security number. Voters can also claim that they do not have any of these numbers and can use expired ID. Both bills also require that postal ballot requests be signed using “ink on paper,” so electronic or photocopied signatures would not be allowed.

Currently, Texas uses signature match to verify an identity for postal voting. Both election bills would allow a signature verification committee to examine all known signatures of a voter, rather than two or more signatures made in the past six years.

The bills also state that marked ballots must be “received by an election official” when delivered. There were expanded options for voters to return the ballots in person during the general election due to the pandemic, but normally Texas does not allow voters to cast the mail-in ballots at a county election office. than on polling day.

Prohibition of public officials from sending unsolicited postal ballots

Both bills would prohibit public officials from sending unsolicited postal ballot requests to voters. The House version would make this practice a state prison crime.

Harris County attempted to send postal ballot requests to all voters ahead of the general election, but the Texas Supreme Court blocked he. Harris County Noted that the state did not try to shut down the county when officials “distributed unsolicited nominations to Harris County voters over the age of 65” earlier in 2020.

Both versions also state that public officials cannot approve spending public money to have a third party distribute unsolicited mail ballot requests.

Protections for survey observers

The bills also provide certain protections for election observers. They require that poll observers be allowed to sit or stand close enough to observe what is happening in a polling place.

The bills also prohibit election officials from refusing to accept a poll observer and would prevent officers from obstructing an observer’s view or moving the observer so far as to make “the observation not reasonably effective.” . Election observers should also be allowed freedom of movement “where electoral activity takes place”. The bills also allow election observers to observe the transfer of election materials from a voting site to a regional compilation center.

The bills demand that poll observers say they “will not disrupt the voting process or harass voters” or face prosecution for obstruction.

Possibilities to correct postal voting errors

If a voter makes a mistake, such as forgetting to sign a postal voting certificate or omitting residence information, or if workers question the voter’s signature, then a voter can correct that defect to make sure their newsletter counts.

Requirement that judges inform convicted felons of their voting eligibility status

In Texas, those convicted of a felony cannot vote unless their sentence is “fully released,” including any parole or probation, or if they have been pardoned. Both bills require that those convicted of a crime be informed that the conviction will affect their right to vote.

However, the House bill goes a step further. The House bill also states that no one can be found guilty of voting or attempting to vote when ineligible “solely on the basis that the person has signed a provisional voting affidavit.” . “Other evidence” must corroborate “that the person knowingly committed the offense”.

House Democrats have previously pushed for this to be included due to the controversial conviction of Crystal Mason, who faces five years in prison for voting provisionally in the 2016 election while on probation. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to reconsider his case at the end of March.

About Geraldine Higgins

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