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Republicans, Democrats file dueling election bills during Texas legislative session



Texas – Republican state lawmakers have filed dozens of bills this legislative session to promote what Gov. Abbott has called “election integrity” while Democratic lawmakers have filed bills that largely center around promoting greater access to the ballot box.

Last week in his State of the State address, Gov. Abbott designated “election integrity” as one of his five emergency items this session.

That means state lawmakers will be able to vote on these bills in the first 60 days of the session — before most other bills.

One such bill is Senate Bill 208 by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, which would prohibit county officials from distributing early ballot applications to voters unless they specifically request one.

“The county clerk may not — I’ll use the military analogy if you don’t mind — treat ballot applications like a propaganda leaflet you drop from 20,000 feet over a battlefield to see what kind of response you get,” said state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, who is a joint author of the bill.

“You absolutely invite people to use those ballots or requests for ballots to fraudulently vote — and so that’s the impetus of the bill,” he said.

The bill was born after Harris County election officials hatched a plan to send mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters in the county during the last election cycle.

The Texas Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the county could not do that in October, saying that it could only send them to those who are eligible

“One lesson that Republicans learned from the 2020 cycle is that the current election law is vague in many areas in terms of what local election officials can and cannot do,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

“And so I think what the governor’s legislation in that vein of election integrity is going to do is restrict the autonomy of local election officials to freelance on things like online registration or vote by mail,” he said.

Republican lawmakers also have filed bills that would increase the penalties for certain violations of the Election Code and increase voter identification requirements.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers are focusing on expanding voting access.

“The Brennan Center has recently said you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than to have someone fraudulently use your name for voter fraud,” said Antonio Arellano, the interim executive director of Jolt, a nonprofit that aims to increase the civic participation of Latinos.

“It’s just simply not happening in this state, and it’s not happening in this country,” he said.

On Democrats’ legislative agenda this session are several bills that would expand voting by mail and online voting, extend early voting and make election day a holiday, among other proposals.