Senate Bill 7, a sweeping election reform bill, was recently passed by the Senate with the help of widespread Republican backing. However, the bill failed to pass the House when Democrats walked out of the chamber to avoid voting.
Some of the election integrity measures proposed by Senate Bill 7 include:
- Poll watchers will have more access inside polling areas.
- Election officials who restrict the movement of poll watchers will be penalized.
- A judge can void the outcome of an election if the number of fraudulent votes is enough to swing the results.
- Officials who send mail-in ballots to people who have not requested them can face criminal penalties.
- Drive-thru voting and 24-hour uninterrupted early voting will be banned.
The Texas District and County Attorneys Association (TDCAA) tweeted that Senate Bill 7 would create “16 new, expanded, or enhanced election-related crimes.”
The Senate approved the bill along party lines shortly after 6 a.m. on May 30 following a long overnight debate on the issue. However, that night, Democrats abandoned the House floor to prevent the bill from getting passed. Texas House rules require that at least 100 members are present in the chamber to carry out its functions.
According to a report by The Washington Post, the walkout was led by House Democratic Chairman Chris Turner, who sent instructions to his fellow members to exit the area. “Members, take your key and leave the chamber discreetly… Do not go to the gallery. Leave the building,” he wrote.
Following the walkout, Turner stated, “we denied the quorum that they needed to pass this bill and we killed that bill.” The House had a deadline of May 30 midnight to approve the new legislation.
In a statement, Texas Governor Republican Greg Abbott said that he is deeply disappointed that the bill did not reach his desk. “Ensuring the integrity of our elections and reforming a broken bail system remain emergencies in Texas. They will be added to the special session agenda. Legislators will be expected to have worked out the details when they arrive at the Capitol for the special session,” he said.
In a tweet, Abbott also said that he would be vetoing Article 10 of the budget passed by the legislature, which funds the legislative branch. “No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities,” he said. The governor has until June 20 to enact the veto, which would deny lawmakers their $600 a month and a $211 per diem (per day) payment when they participate in sessions.
Democrat Senator Borris Miles criticized the bill for banning drive-thru voting. “I represent a majority African American district, and we benefited from the drive-thru voting that you’re trying to ban now. I feel like you’re coming for my district,” he said, according to Austin American Statesman.
In a May 30 statement, President Joe Biden called the bill “un-American” and an attack on “the sacred right to vote.” He said, “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.”
Republican Senator Bryan Hughes, the author of the bill, criticized Biden’s statement in a tweet: “Sounds like @POTUS @JoeBiden has been reading leftist talking points on SB7. The truth is: #SB7 is a strong bill that gives accessibility & security to Texas elections.”
During the Senate session, Hughes had addressed Democrat concerns about disproportionately affecting voters of color, stating that “the provisions of this bill apply equally across the board.”
With reporting by Prakash Gogoi.