How far are Texas Republicans willing to go?

by | Mar 26, 2021 | Policy, Voting

A public hearing over House Bill 6, one of the most suppressive election-related bills this session, ended abruptly Thursday after Elections Committee Chair and bill author Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) screwed up a procedural rule.

Cain called a recess without setting a time to return, and in doing so, caused the hearing to be canceled after only a few hours of discussion. Some 200 Texans, including former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins and Beto O’Rourke, were unable to testify their concerns. 

“If we cannot stand up and preserve this democracy, we’ll lose it in Texas, we’ll lose it in this country, we’ll lose it for the people of this planet,” O’Rourke said Wednesday in a call with Democrats and activists. “And so that’s, you know, no pressure, but that’s what we’re up against.”

Unfortunately, there was enough said at the committee meeting to show the delay will do little to discourage Republicans from advancing the high-priority bill or stop their crusade against widespread voter fraud, an enemy they can neither see nor produce evidence of.

If passed, HB 6 would prohibit election officials from distributing mail ballot applications unless specifically requested by voters, make it more difficult to assist disabled Texans in voting, and empower campaign or party-picked poll watchers in voting locations. 

The Senate Committee on State Affairs is considering the even more restrictive Senate Bill 7 on Friday. The legislation would rein in voter expansion measures taken by local governments like Harris County, prohibiting 24-hour voting, drive-thru voting, and require written documentation from a federal agency or a doctor’s note as proof to claim a disability when voting by mail. 

Underpinning all of this is the fact that only 16 cases of voter fraud were discovered by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in 2020 (mind you, Paxton’s work against the War on Fraudism is so essential fellow Republican lawmakers are actually considering slashing his budget), as well as a promise by Texas Office of the Secretary of State elections chief Keith Ingram that the general election was both “smooth and secure.” And during the hearing itself, committee member Rep. Michelle Beckley made a clever point citing a fiscal note by the Legislative Budget Board that showed the bill, which creates new criminal penalties for public officials and voters, would not cost the state a dime.

“It says there’s no significant fiscal implications to the state is anticipated [because of the HB6], yet we’re increasing criminal penalties and creating criminal offenses,” Beckley said. “That would indicate there is no significant crime being committed right now that we’re trying to correct.” 

“I’m not sure if that’s the case, I don’t work with the Legislative Budget Board,” Cain replied. 

In the absence of any real evidence of widespread fraud, why are Texas Republicans trying to pass legislation to make it more difficult to vote? The answer is probably somewhere in between assuaging the large base of Trump voters who have lost faith in the democratic system thanks to the former president, and a genuine fear of Democrat gains in the state. Either way, their motives are less important than the endpoint of their voter integrity goals. 

Cain offered a good look at just how deep the rabbit hole will go.

“I would say that even one instance of fraud is reason to be concerned and that we should do our best to make sure that there is none of it,” he said. “Our goal should be zero when our attorney general testifies before this community.” 

In that endless quest, thousands of voters, especially elderly and disabled Texans, will be disenfranchised. 

Photo: Mark Felix for The Washington Post via Getty Images

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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