A wave of changes to Texas elections, including new voting restrictions, is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
Three months after House Democrats first broke quorum to stymie a previous iteration of the legislation, Republicans in the House and Senate on Tuesday signed off on the final version of Senate Bill 1 to further tighten the state’s voting rules and rein in local efforts to widen voting access. Abbott, a Republican, said he will sign it into law.
The bill was delayed one more time as its Republican author, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, disapproved of language added by the House to address the controversial conviction of Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman facing a five-year sentence for a ballot she has said she did not know she was ineligible to cast. Hughes’ objection triggered backroom talks to strip the Mason amendment before the bill could come up for a final vote.
The votes mark the end of a legislative saga that encompassed two sessions of legislative overtime and featured marathon hearings, a dramatic decampment to Washington, D.C., and escalating tensions between the Democrats who fled in protest of what they saw as a danger to their constituents’ votes and the Republicans left behind unable to conduct business.
Republicans pushed for SB 1 citing their desire to further safeguard elections from fraud — for which there is no evidence of a widespread problem — and to standardize election procedures. The legislation establishes new ID requirements for voting by mail, enhances protections for partisan poll watchers and sets new rules, and possible criminal penalties, for those who assist voters.
It also makes it a state jail felony for local election officials to proactively distribute applications for mail-in ballots, even if they are providing them to voters who automatically qualify to vote by mail or groups helping get out the vote.
Throughout the last few months, Republicans also strived to leave intact provisions of the bill that will ban drive-thru voting and set new limits on early voting hours to outlaw overnight voting. They were clear they were targeting initiatives carried out by Harris County last year, which county officials have said were disproportionately used by voters of color.