Texas House advances Briscoe Cain’s sweeping election conspiracy bill

by | May 7, 2021 | Policy, Texas Legislature

After hours of debate Thursday evening that stretched into the next morning, lawmakers in the Texas House advanced Senate Bill 7 on Friday. 

Lawmakers voted 81-64 to advance a house version of the bill by authored Briscoe Cain.

If signed into law, the sweeping elections bill would prohibit election officials from freely distributing mail ballot applications, make it more difficult and bureaucratic to assist disabled Texans at the polls, and dangerously empower campaign or party-picked poll watchers in voting locations. 

The house version does not contain the original senate version’s prohibitions against drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting, nor the strict requirement of a doctor’s note to apply to vote by mail while claiming a disability.

The legislation will require one third and final vote in the house on Friday before returning to Texas Senate, where further major changes remain uncertain.

Rep. Briscoe Cain and Republican backers have framed the legislation as an election security bill and a bill to restore voter confidence in elections. Democrats, civil rights groups, and civic engagement groups have argued the bill would criminalize simple mistakes and make it more difficult for local governments to conduct elections.

Many local elected officials whom the bill targets have also rightfully pointed out the bill is yet another law in the making that hampers local control of Democrat-controlled municipalities and counties. (Other examples include Senate Bill 14 which targets local worker protections, and Senate Bill 21, which threatens county-level bail reform efforts). 

Fundamentally, the bill aims to correct fictitious conspiracy theories about election fraud believed by many Republicans, including the former president who amplified them.

The bill touches on every major conspiracy theory repeated by Trump during the 2020 elections, from claims of widespread vote harvesting and mail ballot fraud, to vote-rigging behind closed doors away from poll watchers. 

Of course, none of these things actually happened in Texas, and Republicans have failed to produce any evidence otherwise.

Secretary of State Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram testified to lawmakers in February that the 2020 elections were “smooth and secure,” and a 22,000-hour manhunt from the Texas Attorney General’s office in search of voter fraud found only 16 cases in 2020, according to the Houston Chronicle

Additionally, during a March press conference in Houston that Cain attended, Gov. Greg Abbott admitted he didn’t know how many incidents of voter fraud, if any, occurred in 2020. 

When Rep. Chris Turner pressed Cain on Thursday if any cases of voter fraud have been unearthed in the months since that press conference, Cain blamed “fluctuations” in the attorney general office’s staff and said it took a long time to prosecute election fraud cases. 

“Is this bill simply a part and continuation of the Big Lie perpetrated by Donald Trump that he somehow won the presidential election?” Turned asked Cain.

“This is bill is not a response to 2020, a lot of these things have been a long time coming,” Cain said. 

Cain himself admitted — after it was painfully extracted by Rep. Jessica González —  that the 2020 elections were largely secure. 

“The secretary of state’s office testified before our committee that very first day, and the secretary of state said the 2020 elections was free, fair, safe, and secure. Do you not agree with what the secretary of state said?” González asked Cain.

“I believe that’s their opinion,” Cain said.

“That’s their opinion?”

“Mhm, I mean yeah, I believe for the most part it was free, fair, and safe.”

Cain said that in addition to making Texas elections more secure, the legislation would restore voter trust in the electoral system. 

February polling from the Texas Politics Project finds 52 percent of Texas Republicans believe the national election results were “very inaccurate” compared with 73 percent of Democrats that believe it was “very accurate.” 

In other words, voter confidence is really only a widespread problem among Republican voters. This is not particularly surprising considering confidence in elections among both parties is generally correlated with whether their preferred candidate wins the presidency or not. In fact, one report by the MIT Election Data & Science Lab found that high-profile election administration laws, like voter ID laws, (or Cain’s bill) have no clear impact on voter confidence.

One more detailed report by the MIT Election Data & Science Lab found that while voter confidence in 2020 remained similar to past years, partisan gaps were more pronounced than ever.  

“Among Republicans, lack of confidence in whether votes were counted as intended at the state level was strongly correlated with whether Donald Trump won the respondent’s state and with the fraction of votes cast by mail in the state,” the report read. 

Unfortunately, Texas voters and election workers may have to suffer for the feelings of resentment among Republican voters brought on by Donald Trump and the conspiracy theories he traded. 

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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