Texas Republicans Pass New Voting Restrictions, After A Standoff With Democrats
NOEL KING, HOST:
Texas is about to pass a law that will make it harder for people there to vote. GOP lawmakers sent a bill yesterday to Governor Greg Abbott, who said he will sign it. Democrats in Texas tried to block that bill for more than a month by leaving the state. Ashley Lopez of member station KUT in Austin has been following this one. Good morning, Ashley.
ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: This legislation, as I just said, was tied up for a long time. Democrats were trying to prevent a quorum, which is the reason they fled. They went to Congress with an appeal for federal voting rights law. At the end of the day, did they accomplish anything?
LOPEZ: Well, the bill passed, so ultimately this is a loss for Democrats. And their efforts to pressure members of Congress to pass federal voting protections have also gone nowhere because the sweeping bills are stalled on Capitol Hill. But, you know, James Slattery with the Texas Civil Rights Project says that the walkouts and quorum breaks - basically all that extra time made the bill less restrictive over time.
JAMES SLATTERY: If one were to ask me, were the quorum breaks worth it? - I think absolutely. And the situation for voters in Texas would be much worse if it hadn't happened.
LOPEZ: For example, provisions that would have limited voting on Sundays, when Black church members often go to the polls, and measures that would have made it easier to overturn elections are not part of what's going to the governor's desk. And those were two things that would have become law if Democrats didn't walk out that first time back in May. These were so controversial that even Republicans distanced themselves from these provisions, even though they were ready to vote for them.
KING: OK, so a couple of wins for Democrats. And then, Ashley, tell me about the Crystal Mason provision.
LOPEZ: Yeah, so Republicans threw out this provision related to a high-profile case here, a woman who was charged for illegal voting. She was released from federal prison, but technically couldn't vote because she was still on supervised release. And she says she didn't know at the time and voted. And this - there was this bipartisan, you know, back provision that would have tried to prevent more people from unknowingly getting in that situation. But again, that was stripped out because the sponsor of the bill said it was too broad.
KING: So what is in this bill? What are the key things we should know?
LOPEZ: Well, first, it will add new ID requirements for people to - for voting by mail. It also adds new criminal penalties to the voting process, including for people who help others fill out their ballots. And there are some provisions that empower partisan poll watchers. And lawmakers also banned drive-through voting and 24-hour voting options, which are steps taken last year by Harris County, which is home to Houston, amid the pandemic to make voting safer. Harris County officials have said that voters of color made up the majority of people who took advantage of the 24-hour voting option.
KING: So what has the response been to the fact that this bill is almost certainly going to become a law?
LOPEZ: Well, for Republicans, obviously, this is a big win. And they say this addresses concerns among their voters about voter fraud, even though proving cases of voter fraud or election fraud are exceedingly rare in Texas or elsewhere. And for Democrats, they continue to look toward Congress for help to craft what they see as an overarching federal solution with voting standards. But activists and some election officials in Texas say they're worried about the effect this could have on elections next year. For example, if COVID-19 infections remain high in the state, election officials will have fewer options to make voting safer.
KING: Reporter Ashley Lopez of KUT. Thank you, Ashley.
LOPEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.