After a lengthy back-and-forth between Texas Republicans and Texas Democrats, the controversial bill known as Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott with the stroke of a pen on September 7.
The bill (SB 1) became a lightning rod piece of legislation from start to finish and received tons of national attention and media coverage. Potential passage of the legislation was delayed for months due to Texas House Democrats breaking quorum and fleeing the state for Washington D.C. in protest of the much-debated bill. During the regular legislative session, House Democrats walked out of the State Capitol mere hours before the close of the regular session, which prevented a final vote on the legislation. Gov. Abbott immediately called for a special session, which prompted House Democrats to break quorum again and delay a vote. Gov. Abbott and House Republicans voted to have the House Democrats arrested and brought back to the State Capitol, after they fled to Washington D.C. While in D.C., Texas House Democrats met with congressional leaders seeking to push for the passage and signing of federal legislation.
Two pieces of legislation that Texas House Democrats were advocating for—the For the People Act (H.R. 1) and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4)—are bills that expand voting rights and protect voting rights, respectively. Both bills have passed the House of Representatives, but they have been stalled in the Senate. Texas House Democrats were hopeful these pieces of legislation would get passed and signed into law while they were in D.C. lobbying congressional leaders to act, but that did not happen. After nearly six weeks of breaking quorum and stifling Texas Republicans ability to conduct business, Texas House Democrats suffered a huge blow from within their own ranks when the requisite number of Democratic lawmakers chose to return to Austin and join Texas Republicans on the House floor.
Once a quorum was recognized, the Texas House passed the bill (80-41) and the Texas Senate passed the bill (18-13) on August 31, after some slight revisions were made to the bill before sending it to Gov. Abbott’s desk to receive his blessings via his signature. There was only one Texas Republican who chose to vote against SB 1—Rep. Lyle Larson, (R-San Antonio)—while all Texas Democrats voted against the legislation.
Joined at a press conference by his fellow Texas Republicans, Gov. Abbott praised the newly signed legislation and expressed his appreciation to all who voted to pass the legislation.
“Election integrity is now the law in the state of Texas,” proclaimed Gov. Abbott after signing the bill into law.
This hot-button piece of legislation caused a major divide amongst Texas legislators and has been called “racist” and another form of “voter suppression” by many opponents of the bill.
Upon passage of the bill, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa slammed the legislation, stating that SB 1 was the Republicans way of remaining in power in Texas by limiting voting access.
“This bill has always been about Republicans silencing the voices of millions of Texans because they cannot win any other way,” said Hinojosa. “This is a racist, anti-democracy bill that will cement Texas’s position as the hardest state in the country to vote in.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner took to social media expressing his disdain with the signing.
“I will not be rejoicing at the signing of the most restrictive and voter suppressive bills in the country right here in Texas,” Mayor Turner said via Twitter. “I will encourage people to turn your anger into action and vote in 2022.”
State Representative Ron Reynolds (D-Fort Bend), who was one of the Texas House Democrats who broke quorum and lobbied congressional leaders, believes this new law puts up unnecessary and deliberate barriers to voting and purposely disenfranchises voters of color, the disabled and low-income Texans.
“I am disappointed that the Republican leadership in Texas followed Trump down this waterhole with the “Big Lie” and are passing laws that are Jim Crow 2.0,” said Rep. Reynolds. “We need policies that expand voting access and ensure fair elections. Our state leadership needs to quit going down the dangerous path of division and discrimination that weakens our bonds as Texans.”
The state of Texas has already been labeled as having some of the strictest voting laws in the nation, and now with this new legislation, voting has become even more restrictive.
The Texas Organizing Project (TOP), which has been closely following the progression the legislation released a statement condemning the signing of SB 1 into law and stating their plans to join other opponents in suing the State of Texas to stop the legislation from going into effect..
“For decades, voting in Texas has already been a challenge, and will now become that much more riddled with hurdles that disproportionately impact disenfranchised communities across the state,” said Brianna Brown, Co-Executive Director of the Texas Organizing Project in a statement. “While our governor and the Texas right-wing are ruthlessly committed to shrinking the electorate and diluting the strength of Black and Latino voters, our side is about expanding the electorate and making sure our democracy is healthiest with maximum participation at the ballot box. That’s why TOP is proud to join a powerful slate of voting rights defenders in suing the State of Texas to stop SB 1 from going into effect. We also demand our Democratic-controlled Congress to bring the For The People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act to floor votes immediately and work to ensure their expeditious passage.”
“Governor Abbott, we will have our presence felt in the courts, at the ballot box, and in the streets,” the statement concludes.”
As of this article, various lawsuits have already been filed by voter advocacy groups, the Harris County Elections Administrator, community organizations, the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and many others, to block the legislation from going into effect. If it successfully can move forward, the legislation will take effect just before next year’s primaries leading up to the midterm elections in November 2022.
According to Gov. Abbott and other Texas Republicans, SB 1 was a necessary piece of legislation because they believed Texas elections were subject to fraud. Although countless experts have revealed that there is absolutely no evidence of Texas having a widespread voter fraud issue, Texas Republicans pushed forward with the passage of the legislation that they state makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat.
Several components of the new law that has now been signed by Gov. Abbott includes the following changes:
- Sets new hours for early voting, where early voters can vote at the polls from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and requires counties with populations of 55,000+ to offer at least 12 hours of early voting each day during the second week of early voting for state elections and increases required early voting hours from 8 to 9 hours each day for local elections.
- Ban on drive-thru voting, which was initially used in Harris County during the 2020 election as a means of allowing Texans to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Ban on 24-hour voting, which Harris County also initially implemented for 2020 election.
- Local elections officials can face felony charges if they are found sending unsolicited mail-in ballot applications to voters, with a few exceptions.
- Adds ID requirements for mail-in voting, in that anyone who wants to vote by mail must now provide their driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number, when applying for and sending back in, a mail-in ballot.
- Poll watchers can now move freely within any polling place, except for at a voting station where a voter is actively filling out his/her ballot.
- Poll watchers will have to receive training and they can be kicked out of a polling place if they violate the state Penal Code.
- It will be illegal to obstruct a poll watcher’s view whereby it would not make it “reasonably effective” for them to be able to make observation.
- Anyone assisting a voter fill out their ballot will now have to complete paperwork documenting their relationship to the voter.
- Prevents anyone assisting a voter filling out a ballot from answering questions. Assistants would only be limited to reading the ballot to the voter, directing the voter to read the ballot, marking the voter’s ballot, or directing the voter to mark the ballot. Anything outside of those guidelines could lead to a perjury charge against the assistant.
- Each month, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office will be required to compare its voter registration list against the Texas Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) database to check for and remove anyone who is not a U.S. citizen.
Those are some of the key components of the 76-page new law that is sure to be litigated for some time. In the meantime, opponents are choosing to reactively combat the legislation through the courts, while having a major emphasis on voter registration and voter education. All will be needed if Texas Democrats hope to make any gains in the already “red state” of Texas.