Texas Legislature one step closer to adding new restrictions to voting process

Here is what you need to know
Originally Published: 29 MAY 21 17:17 ET

(CNN) — The Texas legislature is one step closer to adding a host of new restrictions to the voting process in the Lone Star State.

A bill report was filed for Senate Bill 7 on Saturday — the deadline for the 10-member bicameral conference committee charged with hammering out the vast differences between the House and Senate versions — but had yet to be published.

CNN obtained a draft with the expected final language of SB7 and has read through that language.

The 67-page draft contains a few measures that were not included in either the House or Senate approved versions of SB7, which will require additional procedures in the legislative process to pass the bill.

The stated purpose of the “Election Integrity Protection Act” is “to reduce the likelihood of fraud in the conduct of elections, protect the secrecy of the ballot, promote voter access, and ensure that all legally cast ballots are counted.” However, the draft contains a slew of election law changes, hashed out behind closed doors, that would add new requirements and restrictions, as well as new criminal and civil penalties, to the voting process for election workers, volunteers, voters and voting rights organizations.

It also contains significant measures that will further empower partisan poll watchers and adds new requirements for early voting hours, which could expand hours in some places while reducing them in the state’s largest and most diverse counties.

Biden: Texas bill an ‘assault on democracy’

President Joe Biden weighed in on the Texas bill Saturday afternoon, calling it “wrong and un-American.”

“Today, Texas legislators put forth a bill that joins Georgia and Florida in advancing a state law that attacks the sacred right to vote,” Biden said in a statement first provided to The Texas Tribune. “It’s part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year—and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans.”

He called on Congress to pass the “For The People Act” and the “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”

“And I continue to call on all Americans, of every party and persuasion, to stand up for our democracy and protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections.”

What’s in the bill?

Methods used in Harris County during the 2020 election to make it easier to vote during the pandemic, like drive-thru and 24-hour voting, would be outlawed if this bill were to pass. SB7 makes early voting hours “uniform” across the state, which could cut into longer or off-hour voting sometimes used in more population-dense counties to accommodate shift workers.

The bill mandates all weekday early voting must take place sometime between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., but the draft language would limit Sunday early voting to a maximum between the hours of 1 p.m. and 9 p.m., a time constraint Democrats and voting rights activists tell CNN they fear could add a hurdle to “Souls to the Polls” efforts in Black and Latino communities.

The draft language includes measures that could limit some powers of local election officials and would make it a crime for a public official to send a vote-by-mail application to someone who did not request one.

It would impose a civil fine of $1,000 per day for local election officials who don’t properly maintain their voter rolls.

It also changes signature match and adds new identification requirements for vote by mail applications, along with additional requirements to meet for anyone assisting a voter with a mail-in ballot.

The bill expands power and access for partisan poll watchers, allowing them to be “near enough to see and hear” election activity, while also imposing criminal penalties on election workers who obstruct poll watchers in some cases. It does, however, mandate that the poll watchers take an oath promising not to harass or disrupt voters or the voting process.

In a Friday statement announcing an agreement, committee chairs Sen. Bryan Hughes and Rep. Briscoe Cain called the bill “the product of years of hard work and deliberations by current and past legislators,” adding that “the Texas legislature has not bent to headlines or corporate virtue signaling.”

The final version of the bill must be voted on by both chambers in a simple majority vote by midnight Sunday. The Texas legislative session ends on Monday. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has praised both the original House and Senate versions, calling the subject matter a top legislative priority, and has indicated he will sign the bill into law.

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