GOP voting regulations bill clears hurdle in Texas House; Democrats expect federal courts to strike it down if it becomes law

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Senate Bill 7, a controversial Republican-backed voting bill, officially passed in the Texas House on Friday 78-64, with only one Republican voting against it.

The bill would add protections for partisan poll watchers, restrict the distribution of vote-by-mail applications and require anyone who helps a voter to fill out a form detailing the reason for assistance, in addition to other new regulations.

It passed its initial vote in the House early morning Friday, after debate on the bill started at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Lawmakers added 18 amendments before passing, including striking “purity of the ballot” from the bill, which Democrats called racist. Another provision would allow voters to take off work to vote early, and another ensures poll watchers cannot photograph any private information at the polls.

Even with the amendments, Democrats said the bill will make it harder to vote and unfairly harder in minority communities.

With no proof of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election in Texas, Democrats drilled State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) about the reason for the bill in hours of debate Thursday and Friday.

“The Attorney General found 16 problem ballots. Most of them innocent mistakes. 22,000 staff hours, a quarter million dollars, all for 16 ballots out of 11 million. That is, if you do the math, 0.00014% — roughly one in 700,000 votes,” Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston) said on the floor Friday.

But Rep. Cain repeatedly stated the bill is not a reaction to the November 2020 election, but rather a look forward.

“This bill protects every single Texas voter and does not punish people for making honest mistakes,” Rep. Cain said.

Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell, whose county had the highest voter turnout in November 2020, said he understands why the lawmakers are pushing the bill through.

“I think they’ll have no effect whatsoever on voter turnout. Every election is really driven by the candidates and by the ballot,” Gravell said Friday.

Still, Democrats ask why fix what isn’t broken.

“They’re already safe and secure as we were told. What we need to do is prioritize how we modernize and move forward,” Rep. John Bucy III (D-Cedar Park) said, explaining lawmakers should instead be considering ways to make it easier to vote.

The bill now heads to the Senate for approval of the amendments added in the House. Even if it makes it to the governor’s desk, Democrats are hopeful it won’t survive legal challenges down the road.

“We are all equal in federal court, and history is on our side, intent is on our side. So please do not delete any emails,” Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) said on the House floor Friday.

KXAN Austin