State senators have previously passed legislation that makes it harder for people to vote. The new bill is on its way to the Republican-majority Senate where it is expected to be approved and then signed by Governor Greg Abbott.
The restrictions the bill intends to implement include barring mail ballot applications being sent to all registered voters. Mail ballots were a popular voting method in the 2020 election because of the pandemic. People of colour and low-income individuals are believed to be disproportionally impacted by the proposed changes in the bill, according to voting advocacy groups such as the ACLU.
Democrats made their opposition to the bill known as they debated into the wee hours on Friday, questioning why Republicans have zoned in on the issue when the Lone Star State has few examples of electoral fraud. Democrats introduced more than 100 amendments in an effort to slow down the vote, including allowing disruptive poll watchers to be removed.
However conclusions were reached by both sides on 20 different amendments to the legislation, going some way to dissipate anger among voting right campaign groups, Associated Press reported. The 81-64 vote split along party lines when it came in at 3am.
On Thursday Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis also signed a bill placing restrictions on voting by mail, and adding new rules on ballot drop boxes. Other Republican-controlled states including Georgia, Montana and Iowa have introduced similar restrictions on voting.
Those opposed to voting restrictions say that these states are merely buying into the lies of former president Donald Trump. After he lost the presidential election in November, Mr Trump’s legal team filed lawsuits up and down the country making baseless accusations of voter fraud.
Backers of tightened voting rules claim that the measures increase trust in the US electoral system.
During a heated debate in the Texas House chamber on Thursday, Democrats questioned their Republican counterparts as to why the bill was required when senior election officials had found no evidence of voter fraud.
“If it’s not broken, what are we trying to fix?” State Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, a Democrat, asked Republican Rep. Briscoe Cain on the House floor.
“We don’t need to wait for bad things to happen to try to secure our elections,” he responded.
When asked if he or the Attorney General’s office had vetted the voting bill for its potential impact on minority voters, Rep. Cain, the Republican who chairs the Elections Committee and author of the bill, said that he had not checked.
Democrat Rep. Chris Turner said Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, had uncovered just six examples of voter fraud in the 2020 election out of a total 11 million votes cast.
“Is this bill simply a part and continuation of the ‘Big Lie’ perpetrated by Donald Trump?” Rep Turner asked.
Rep. Cain refuted this. “This is not about 2020... This bill is not a response to 2020,” he said.
Some Democrats scrutinized the language of the bill. Rep. Rafael Anchia said the wording was reminiscent of Jim Crow, an era of systemic racism that existed until the mid-20th century in the American South and caused the segregation and disenfranchisement of Black Americans.
Rep. Anchia asked: “What was your motivation for using that term ‘Purity at the ballot box’, because that’s a specific set of words that has a lot of meaning in state history?”
Rep. Cain responded that he “was not familiar” with the phrase being used in the context of Jim Crow.
The next vote on the bill is later on Friday, 7 May.
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