A bill introduced into the Texas Legislature on Thursday claims to ensure election integrity, but watchdogs and advocacy groups say the proposed legislation could lead to more voter suppression in the state.
If passed, the bill, SB 7, would bar local election officials and voter advocacy groups from distributing mail-in vote applications, place the responsibility for clerical errors on election officials and grant more power to the attorney general to hunt down suspected fraud cases, among other provisions.
SB 7 would also limit mail-in voting to voters who provide medical documentation proving that they cannot vote in-person at a voting center, while also preventing local election officials from implementing measures that would further facilitate voting.
Introduced by Republican state senators, SB 7 joins a slew of so-called election integrity bills currently up for consideration in the state Legislature.
Move Texas, a nonprofit that pushes for broader voter registration and engagement, said on Friday SB 7 “threatens to create even more anti-voter restrictions in what is already the most restrictive state in the country.”
In a press release, the advocacy group’s executive director, H. Drew Galloway, described SB 7 as “bar none, the worst voting rights legislation to get filed” since the legislative session started.
“In fact, it’s one of the worst bills for our fundamental right to vote that has been filed since the Jim Crow era,” Galloway said.
“Texas is already one of the hardest states to vote in the country,” Galloway added. “We should be expanding the right to vote, not restricting it. With the introduction of this heinous bill, it’s clear that some lawmakers will stop at nothing to silence the voices of the young, Black and brown Texans who make up the rising Texas electorate.”
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from Houston, is one of SB 7’s 13 coauthors. Bettencourt had already filed seven election integrity bills in the state senate, according to The Center Square, a site that focuses on statehouse news.
“The November 2020 election demonstrated the lack of transparency and lack of integrity within the election process,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “The integrity of the voter roll is paramount to the entire electoral process and we must restore confidence in the voter roll for future elections for all Texans.” (Republican Donald Trump won the presidential race in Texas by almost 6 points and general election results overall favored the GOP.)
One of Bettencourt’s bills, SB 1111, stipulates that voters must prove they live at the address where they are registered with documentation, The Center Square reported.
In the House, Republican state Rep. Jacey Jetton filed four election integrity bills earlier this month. Three of Jetton’s bills aim to impose tighter restrictions on the mail-in voting process, while a fourth “enforces voter roll maintenance,” according to a news release.
Jetton described election integrity as an “emergency item” in the state Legislature and said the four bills “are designed to build confidence in the outcomes of our elections.”
Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott said election integrity would be one of five “emergency items” for this legislative session, granting such legislation fast-track status.
“One thing all of us should agree on, whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, or independent, is that we must have trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections,” Abbott said at the time.
But of the spate of bills in both chambers, SB 7 has prompted the most criticism from advocacy groups and watchdogs.
Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of the Common Cause advocacy group, said granting Attorney General Ken Paxton more prosecutorial powers “is a profoundly bad idea.”
After former President Trump lost the November 2020 elections, Paxton filed a lawsuit to contest the results in four battleground states the Republican incumbent lost. The Supreme Court promptly dismissed the lawsuit.
“Ken Paxton has shown us beyond a shadow of a doubt that he will jump at the chance to use his office for purely political purposes, like trying to overturn the results of a presidential election,” Gutierrez said in a news release.
“This bill continues a pattern we’ve been seeing throughout the pandemic of county election workers doing their best to find ways to let Texans vote safely and securely while the state does everything it can to stop them,” Gutierrez added.
On Friday, the ACLU of Texas joined the chorus, condemning SB 7 as an attempt to suppress voters. On Twitter, the civil liberties watchdog said that “13 extremist lawmakers have released a bill that will make voting in Texas even harder.”
Since Trump’s loss, Republicans in Texas and beyond have latched on to false claims that President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party rigged the vote.
That conspiracy theory also spurred hundreds of Trump supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when they participated in a deadly riot. In the two months since, federal authorities have arrested hundreds for their alleged involvement, including more than a dozen North Texans.
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