Protesters gathered outside state Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s Houston area office on Monday to protest the arrival of Gov. Greg Abbott at a press conference backing GOP legislation that would prevent local counties from expanding voting methods.
“Whether it’s the authorized expansion of mail-in-ballots or the authorized expansion of drive-thru voting, we must pass laws to prevent election officials from jeopardizing the election process,” Abbott said during his Monday press conference with Bettencourt and state Rep. Briscoe Cain.
Abbott criticized Former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins for expanding voting methods during the pandemic.
Before being prevented by the Supreme Court of Texas, Hollins attempted to send out more than 2 million mail-in-ballot applications to residents to encourage absentee voting. Hollins also introduced drive-thru voting and kept several polling locations in the county open for 24 hours to accommodate voters.
Senate Bill 7, the sweeping 27-page legislation highlighted during the press conference, would make it illegal for county clerks to “solicit” mail ballot applications and would also target drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting.
“A lot of these shift workers — medical personal, firefighters, police — anybody who does shift work benefits from using these 24-hour voting sites,” said Amari Ricardo, a protestor outside Bettencourt’s office holding a sign against Senate Bill 7 and its House counterpart HB 6.
“Instead of taking time and access away from voters, we should be expanding them,” said Mauri Lucas, another protestor. “Harris County did an amazing job expanding access for voters during COVID. And those should be expanded forever — more days, more time, drive-thru, mail-in, drop-offs, all of those help us vote.”
The governor ambiguously cited voter fraud as the reason behind his push for “election integrity,” one of his top priorities this session. While individual cases of voter fraud exist, they are extremely rare and hardly constitute as the widespread or systemic voter fraud that Trump and Texas Republicans say is occurring. Their claims have been repeatedly debunked, and Abbott nor Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have been able to produce evidence to suggest otherwise.
In a press conference shortly after Abbott’s, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo described the Republican legislation as a “poll tax” disguised as election integrity.
“It’s clearly a direct response to the massive success we had in Harris County last year in terms of accessible and secure elections,” Hidalgo said, citing record-breaking turnout.
Under SB 7, Texans voting to apply to vote by mail by claiming a disability would need written documentation from a doctor or federal agency. Current Texas law allows voters to make that determination personally.
“That is a poll tax,” Hidalgo said. “To require someone to make expenses in order to vote. It’s especially an issue in our state, where almost 20 percent of people, almost five million people, are uninsured.”
MOVE Texas, a nonprofit focused on youth voter registration and civic engagement, warned on Friday that Senate Bill 7 was an undemocratic attack on the right to vote in Texas.
“SB 7 is, bar none, the worst voting rights legislation to get filed this entire session,” said MOVE Texas Action Fund Executive Director H. Drew Galloway. “In fact, it’s one of the worst bills for our fundamental right to vote that has been filed since the Jim Crow Era.”