Politics

Democrats Are Sounding The Alarm Over Texas’ Election Bill. Here’s What It Actually Does

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Andrew Trunsky Political Reporter
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  • Texas Republicans are working to pass Senate Bill 7, a sweeping voting package that would overhaul how elections take place across the state.
  • The 226-page bill is controversial, with Republicans and Gov. Greg Abbott hailing it and Democrats, including those in the legislature and President Joe Biden, railing against it as a partisan law seeking to disenfranchise voters.
  • The bill, which was introduced earlier this year, includes provisions on early, mail-in and weekend voting, as well as sections pertaining to how elections are run, how ballots are counted and how to deal with potential cases of voter fraud.
  • Below is a breakdown of what S.B. 7 does as written, though changes to the bill may happen before its likely eventual passage in the GOP-controlled state.

Texas Republicans are working to pass Senate Bill 7, a sweeping voting package that would overhaul how elections take place across the state.

The 226-page bill is controversial, with Republicans and Gov. Greg Abbott hailing it and Democrats, including those in the legislature and President Joe Biden, railing against it as a partisan law seeking to disenfranchise voters. Democrats in the Texas House were so adamantly against its passage that they staged a covert walkout late Sunday, leaving the chamber without the necessary votes to call a quorum and effectively tanking the bill in the final hours of the legislature’s session.

The bill, which was introduced earlier this year, includes provisions on early, mail-in and weekend voting, as well as sections pertaining to how elections are run, how ballots are counted and how to deal with potential cases of voter fraud. Similar bills in other Republican-controlled states have been introduced, with some in states like Florida, Georgia and Arizona having already been signed into law.

Its introduction follows months of baseless claims from former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was rigged due to widespread voter fraud.

Before the bill passed the state Senate last Wednesday, Democrats were able to weaken some measures, compromising on amendments that lessened criminal penalties for those breaking election laws, allowed problematic poll watchers to be removed and reaffirmed that election officials who made honest mistakes would not be held criminally liable.

Below is a breakdown of what S.B. 7 does as written, though changes to the bill may happen before its likely eventual passage in the GOP-controlled state. (RELATED: Abbott Says He’ll Suspend Lawmakers’ Pay After Democrats Walk Out On Election Bill)

Gov. Greg Abbott, a strong supporter of Senate Bill 7, has vowed to call the legislature back into session to pass it. (Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty Images)

Gov. Greg Abbott, a strong supporter of Senate Bill 7, has vowed to call the legislature back into session to pass it. (Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty Images)

Mail-In, Early and Drive-Thru Voting

If adopted, the bill would add ID requirements to mail-in voting, change early voting and completely ban drive-thru voting.

Texans opting to vote by mail will have to request an absentee ballot application and provide either their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their social security number. They will then have to send that information again once they mail their ballot in order to affirm its validity.

The bill makes it a crime for election clerks to send out absentee ballot applications to voters who had not explicitly requested them. However, it does allow for voter registration applications to be sent to high schools and instructs the state to improve its ability to track early ballots online.

Democrats have sharply objected, saying that the bill is an attempt to limit mail-in voting. Corporations in the state are also opposed to the bill, with over 50 of them signing an open letter disparaging “any changes” that would make it harder to vote.

The bill also originally changed Texas’ early voting on Sundays, limiting it to between 1 and 9 p.m. The change was instantly met with criticism from Democrats and voting rights advocates, who accused Republicans of seeking to eliminate “souls to the polls” efforts, a longtime practice by black congregations encouraging their members to vote after Sunday services. (RELATED: Schumer Accused Georgia Republicans Of Eliminating Sunday Voting, But There’s More To The Story)

“Those election workers want to go to church too,” said Republican state Sen. Brian Hughes, a lead sponsor of the bill, on the Texas House floor.

But on Tuesday, Republican state Rep. Travis Clardy walked back the change, telling NPR that it was a misprint that was instead supposed to read 11 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. The misprint seemingly went unnoticed throughout the Texas House’s final debate on the bill.

The bill would also completely ban drive-thru voting and any mobile site where voters can stay in their cars to vote, which larger, Democratic-leaning counties adopted amid the coronavirus pandemic. In the 2020 election, an estimated 127,000 Texans used the method to vote.

When debating the bill, Democratic state Sen. Carol Alvarado cited a report by the Harris County election office estimating that black and Hispanic voters amounted for more than half of votes cast at drive-thru sites and at locations with extended hours, both of which Senate Bill 7 targets.

“Knowing that, who are you really targeting?” Alvarado asked on the Texas Senate floor.

“As I see this bill, it’s a case of pure suppression,” said Democratic state Sen. Borris Miles. “There are some things in here that are really offensive. This hurts to the core.”

An election worker guides voters at Houston's NRG Stadium in October 2020. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images)

An election worker guides voters at Houston’s NRG Stadium in October 2020. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images)

Polling Places, Poll Watchers and Election Officials

The bill seeks to empower partisan poll watchers, barring election officials from knowingly refusing to admit them. It grants them “free movement” throughout a polling place, except for where a voter may be filling out a ballot.

An earlier version of the bill allowed for poll watchers to film voters at polling places, but the provision was struck from an earlier version of the bill after critics alleged that it could lead to voter intimidation.

The bill also increases the penalties for nonpartisan election officials who violate election law or make a mistake while tabulating votes. It imposes daily fines of $1,000 on officials who fail to update their voter rolls according to the bill, and criminal penalties on officials who oppose poll watchers.

President Joe Biden on June 1. He blasted Texas's bill, calling it an "assault on democracy." (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden on June 1. He blasted Texas’s bill, calling it an “assault on democracy.” (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Overturning an Election

One provision makes it easier for a judge to overturn an election within the state, giving them the power to do so if the number of votes cast illegally is enough to change the ultimate outcome, even if every fraudulent vote was cast for the losing candidate.

In the 2020 election, investigators found 43 cases of voter fraud out of the approximately 11 million votes cast in the state, according to the Houston Chronicle, resulting in a rate of about 0.000004%.

The provision also follows Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s bid to overturn the election in favor of Trump, who won the Lone Star State but lost the overall race to now-President Joe Biden. Paxton led a Supreme Court suit seeking to throw out the results in multiple battleground states, but the court refused to hear the case.

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