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After A Bitter Fight, The Texas House Passes A Restrictive Voting Bill

Texas Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan strikes his gavel as the House votes on an amendment to election bill SB1 on Thursday. The legislation easily passed in the GOP-led chamber.
Eric Gay
Texas Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan strikes his gavel as the House votes on an amendment to election bill SB1 on Thursday. The legislation easily passed in the GOP-led chamber.

Updated August 27, 2021 at 9:50 AM ET

Months of partisan battles in Texas concluded late Thursday as Republican House members passed new voting restrictions, moving the legislation closer to the governor's desk.

The vote in the Texas House on the nearly 50-page bill, SB1, was 79-37 (mostly on party lines) and follows historic efforts by Democrats to block it.

In late May, House Democrats staged a dramatic, 11th-hour walkout to stop a vote before the legislative session's conclusion. GOP Gov. Greg Abbott then called a special session, but dozens of Democrats fled the state, infuriating Republicans and denying them a quorum to conduct business at the state Capitol. The standoff lasted 38 days, until enough Democrats returned to Austin last week, enabling GOP lawmakers to move ahead on their bill.

Texas already had some of the country's strictest voting rules

The Democrats had taken their fight to Washington, D.C., imploring Congress to advance federal voting protections. Those measures are stalled on Capitol Hill.

And now Texas — which already has some of the strictest voting rules in the country — is set to become the latest Republican-led state to pass new restrictions on voting and election administration in the wake of the 2020 elections.

The GOP-led state Senate has passed a similar measure. The House bill faces a final vote Friday and then will head to the Senate.

The House legislation in Texas would add new ID requirements for people seeking to vote by mail; add new criminal penalties to the voting process; empower partisan poll watchers; and ban drive-through and 24-hour voting options, steps taken last year by Harris County, home to Houston.

Harris County officials have said that voters of color made up the majority of people who took advantage of the 24-hour voting option. Separately, an ACLU of Texas report found that more than 70% of prosecutions for alleged voting crimes conducted by the state attorney general's office have targeted Black and Latino voters.

Proven cases of voter or election fraud are exceedingly rare

Democrats and voting rights activists say the Texas provisions are unneeded restrictions that stem from baseless claims of election fraud by former President Donald Trump and his allies and which would particularly harm disabled voters, voters of color and urban voters in a state with fast-changing demographics.

Republicans said their efforts are in service of "election integrity" to make it harder to cheat — though proven cases of voter or election fraud are exceedingly rare. They say the changes enacted by Harris County last year were unauthorized expansions of voting rules.

While the outcome in Texas was essentially a foregone conclusion — Republicans control the statehouse — Democrats can argue that their disruptive tactics influenced the ultimate legislation. The bill that nearly passed in late May, for instance, would have cut down on Sunday voting — a provision that one Republican state representative said was a mistake, a "scrivener's error."

Texas will soon become the latest GOP-run state to enact new voting restrictions, joining Georgia, Florida, Arizona and others.

And while the swing states that have added new voter restrictions this year have gotten more attention, more states — mostly led by Democrats — have passed into law measures that expand voting access. That includes Nevada and Illinois.

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Ben Swasey is an editor on the Washington Desk who mostly covers politics and voting.