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What's in the voting bill Texas Democrats want to kill?

KENS-TV San Antonio logo KENS-TV San Antonio 7/14/2021 Matt Houston
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The Texas Senate advanced its version of a so-called "election integrity" bill Tuesday, but the measure is doomed as long as House Democrats remain in Washington, D.C. 

The proposal is nearly identical to the House version of the bill which faces the same fate. 

Both measures impose weaker restrictions on voting than the bill Republicans pushed in May. Democratic lawmakers walked out of the House chambers to ensure there would not be a vote on that proposal during the final moments of the regular session. 

But advocates say the latest iteration would disproportionately affect people of color and make it harder for some Texans to vote. 

"Why make it harder? Like. What exactly is the point of making it harder to vote?" said Valerie Reiffert, who works to improve voter turnout through Radical Registrars. She is also a poll worker. 

"It's just very blatant and obvious. They're really not hiding what they are doing now," she said. "It's about regaining power." 

The governor contends the measures will make it easier to vote, since the proposals would require polling places to stay open for an additional hour each day during the early voting period. 

"Souls to the Polls" events could continue unimpeded under the newest proposals.

The bills would also force more counties to keep a single polling place open for 12 hours on certain days during the early voting period. 


Video: Texas Democrats block vote on Senate Bill 7 (KVUE-TV Austin)

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Under current law, only counties with 100,000 residents must maintain an extended-hours site, though voters in smaller counties can petition the local elections commissioner to open one. The new law would lower the threshold to counties with 55,000 residents or more. 

But Republicans would cap the number of hours a county can keep polling places open each day, effectively banning the 24-hour voting method Harris county officials pioneered at the height of the pandemic. 

The measures would also bar drive-thru voting, a method 10 percent of all Houston voters employed to cast their ballots during the presidential election. 

"It was just really convenient," Reiffert said, noting that more people of color struggle to vote during normal business hours because they often work night shifts or cannot leave work. 

More Houston voters voted early in 2020 than ever before. About 25 percent of all black adults in Texas live in Harris county. 

The bill would also prevent public officials from sending absentee ballot applications to people who do not ask for them. Political parties could continue to send unsolicited applications, however. 

Voters who want to cast a ballot by mail would have to provide their social security number or driver's license number on their application. If the numbers do not match their ballot, their vote would be rejected. 

In a concession to Democrats, voters could appeal rejected absentee ballots and correct any discrepancies. 

Gov. Greg Abbott has repeatedly questioned the integrity of the vote-by-mail system, despite any concrete evidence the system has ever been used for substantial voter fraud. After former president Donald Trump cast aspersions on the system, the FBI said it would be nearly impossible to swing an election using fraudulent absentee ballots. 

Abbott cites a written opinion from a federal judge appointed by former president Barack Obama who said there is an "abundance" of voter fraud in Texas. He says there are few prosecutions each year because it's difficult to sniff out. 

Texas Republicans say the state's attorney general is investigating 44 claims of voter fraud out of the 11 million ballots cast last year. 

The measures would also allow partisan poll watchers to move freely about a polling place, as long as they do not enter a voting booth. Reiffert said this will be intimidating, even though poll watchers are not allowed to harass voters. 

"They all seem to be very extremist people," she said. "It's absolutely intimidation. That's why people keep saying this is 'Jim Crow' era." 

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