With few concessions to Democrats, Texas House advances voter suppression bill

by | Aug 27, 2021 | Policy, Texas Legislature

Congregating at midnight much like vampires would, Texas House Republicans voted Monday to advance Senate Bill 1, a bill that threatens to reduce polling hours and make it more difficult to vote by mail.

Republicans are pushing the legislation as a solution to widespread voter fraud, but neither the governor nor the relevant state agencies he controls — the attorney general and secretary of state’s offices — have provided any evidence. 

Democrats who returned to Austin hammered this point repeatedly with little effect on GOP lawmakers during Monday’s 12-hour debate, which began with a plea for civility by Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan asking lawmakers not to call each other racist while his fellow party members worked on a bill opposed by just about every civil rights group in the state. 

Rep. Andrew Murr, the mustachioed Junction Republican tasked with sponsoring and defending the bill on the House floor while looking like a Prussian Emperor, further set the mood of the debate early on when he said that Republicans didn’t need any evidence of voter fraud to pass a bill addressing voter fraud. 

When asked by Texas House Democrats Chair Rep. Chris Turner whether he believed the 2020 elections in Texas were safe and secure, Murr said yes, but argued that the existence of fraud isn’t a prerequisite to passing the “forward-looking” bill. 

The conclusion to this line of reasoning, Murr might argue, is that the most “forward-looking” protection against voter fraud is simply having no voters at all.

Democrats introduced dozens of amendments to soften the legislation throughout the debate, but most were quickly voted down with the exception of one blanket provision introduced by Rep. John Bucy III (D-Austin) preventing the bill from limiting the right of individuals with a disability to receive reasonable accommodation.  Democrats also managed to toss out a number of Republican amendments to expand the bill, most notably a strange and dumb-sounding ploy by Rep. Mike Schofield (R-Katy) that threatened to split federal and state elections, holding them “separately and concurrently,” if Congress enacted voting rights legislation. 

A third reading and final vote to pass the bill out of the House is expected Friday, a move that will bring the bill dangerously close to becoming law, as well as narrow the window for Democrats to break quorum again to disrupt the bill, as some their colleagues that have remained in Washington have urged them to do. 

If passed in the House the legislation will head to a conference committee where lawmakers between both chambers will settle their differences over the bill. 

Lawmakers went through the same process during the regular session. When Senate Republicans revealed a much more restrictive bill that removed provisions worked on in the lower chamber, House Democrats walked out and broke quorum. They did so again when the bill was revived during the special session.

Yet provisions that Democrats broke quorum to fight against remain in the bill, including the elimination of drive-thru voting by making it illegal to vote from a motor vehicle; the prevention of 24-hour voting by limiting polling hours from 6:00 a.m. to 10 p.m.; making it more difficult to vote by mail by requiring personal identification; requiring anyone who assists disabled voters to fill out paperwork; preventing county officials from sending out unsolicited vote-by-mail applications; and empowering partisan party-picked poll watchers.

As approval for the bill draws closer, it seems increasingly unlikely that a sufficient number of Democrats break quorum again (at this point, at least 17 members would have to defect). 

And with Senate Republicans still getting a say, future unsavory changes to the bill remain uncertain. 

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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