Titled the “Election Integrity Protection Act of 2021,” the centerpiece GOP legislation is the result of negotiations between Senate Republicans with their SB 7 as originally filed by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Republicans in the lower chamber with House Bill (HB) 6, a similar omnibus election bill filed by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park).
The legislation still needs the final approval of both the House and Senate, but is expected to receive pushback from Democrats who have labeled SB 7 as “the new Jim Crow Voter Suppression Laws for Texas.”
However, in a joint press release from Hughes and Cain, the Republicans repeated what they have said about their election bills all along: “The bill protects the Texas ballot box by making it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
All rhetoric aside, here is a detailed look at what can be found in the final version of the bill, which is broken down into 11 primary sections.
1. General Provisions
- The bill adds a piece of legislative intent to the state’s election code to read, “It is the intent of the legislature that the application of this code and the conduct of elections be uniform and consistent throughout this state to reduce the likelihood of fraud in the conduct of elections, protect the secrecy of the ballot, promote voter access, and ensure that all legally cast ballots are counted.”
2. Registration of Voters
- The secretary of state and voter registrars are required to determine when a county has more registered voters than eligible voters and act to remedy it.
3. Conduct and Security of Elections
- Polling places may not be temporary, movable tents or structures like parking garages designed for drive-through voting. State code permits curbside voting for disabled individuals who cannot enter a polling place, but does not include a provision for other ways of voting from within a vehicle. Republicans and Democrats conflicted over the issue in the last general election, especially in Harris County.
- More specific voting times are stipulated so that voting must be permitted for at least nine hours per day between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. during the early voting period on weekdays and Saturdays. In counties with populations above 30,000, a minimum of 12 hours in that time period is required. The time for early voting on the last Sunday before an election is restricted to between 1 p.m. and 9 p.m.
- Voters who are in line before the polls close may remain in line.
- Counties with more than 100,000 residents are required to implement publicly available live streams of the central counting stations.
4. Election Officers and Observers
- Election officers may not refuse to “accept a watcher for service” under the relevant section of the election code.
- Poll watchers are required to take an oath administered by election officers to “not disrupt the voting process or harass voters.”
- Provisions are established for poll watchers to have free movement “near enough to see and hear the election officers,” unless otherwise prohibited by law.
- Allows poll watchers to seek injunctive relief if they are denied free movement or otherwise prohibited from observing the election process as allowed under the election code.
- Clarifies who may be present at polling locations (e.g. election officers, voters, poll watchers, and individuals assisting voters), the early voting ballot board, and central counting stations.
- Stipulates that communications between public officials and voting systems vendors, excluding parts of the bidding process, are subject to public record.
- After Jan. 1, 2024, would prohibit ballot scanners with memory devices that can be modified to change votes.
- Requires a possible paper trail audit of voting records.
5. Voting by Mail
- Specifies that individuals who are eligible to vote by mail because of a disability include voters who are “not capable of appearing at the polling place [. . .] due to the voter’s illness, injury, medical confinement ordered by a health care professional, or mental or physical disability.”
- Specifies that the disability eligibility for voting by mail does not include voters with “a lack of transportation,” voters who are not likely to need assistance to vote, or a requirement to be at work.
- In addition to the current prohibition on electronic signatures for applications to vote by mail, SB 7 would also prohibit the photocopied signatures on the application.
- Applications to vote by mail must include either the voter’s driver’s license number, the last four digits of the voter’s social security number, or a statement that the applicant has not been issued either form of identification.
- Identification numbers on the application to vote by mail must match the voter’s registration information.
- SB 7 stipulates that “No record associating an individual voter with a ballot may be created.”
- Signature verification committees may compare any known signature of voters, instead of the current “two or more signatures [. . .] made within the preceding six years.”
- Ballots voted by mail must be stored separately from ballots cast at a polling location.
6. Assistance of Voters
- Non-voters are only permitted to stay in a vehicle where curbside voting is taking place if they would assist the voter in other ways within the polling place.
- Individuals who transport three or more individuals who are not related to the person transporting voters must fill out a form providing their name and address.
- Assistance for voters is clarified to include for marking “or reading” the ballot.
- Individuals who provide voter assistance at the polling location are required to provide their name and address, relation to the voter, and a statement about whether they received any form of compensation to assist the voter from a candidate, campaign, or political committee.
- The oath that assistants must take is changed to add in more detail about what voting assistants can and cannot do under law.
- Giving or receiving compensation for assisting voters is a state jail felony.
7. Fraud and Other Unlawful Practices
- Election judges who accept a voter affidavit knowing that it contains false information commit a state jail felony.
- Employers are required to permit employees to take time to vote during the early voting period.
- Voter fraud offenses are expanded to include more items — such as election officers counting invalid ballots, not counting valid ballots, or preventing voters from voting — and increases penalties for election officers who commit offenses from a Class A misdemeanor to a state jail felony.
- Vote harvesting is more clearly defined in statute, more penalties are created for the illegal act, and increases liability to allow harmed candidates or parties to sue for compensation.
- Government officials are prohibited from soliciting mail ballot applications to individuals who do not request the application, but they are not prohibited from providing the public with general information about voting by mail.
- The secretary of state is required to monitor voter registrars with respect to compliance with the cancellation of voter registration because of changes in citizenship status.
- Penalties are increased for registrars who fail to correct errors.
- Persons convicted of an offense under the election code are ineligible to be an election officer.
- A process is created for courts to overturn an election when the number of votes illegally cast exceeds the number of votes needed to change the outcome of the election.
- The court of criminal appeals is given authority to grant writs of mandamus with respect to criminal investigations under the election code.
- Criminal investigations under the election code are to be given the court’s priority beneath cases related to the death penalty “or when it would otherwise interfere with a constitutional right.”
- Penalties are created for individuals who attempt to influence the court’s handling of election cases.
9. Ineligible Voters and Related Reforms
- Courts are required to inform felons how their conviction “will impact the defendant’s right to vote in this state.”
- Voting offenses are expanded to include a person who votes in Texas after voting in another state on the same day during a presidential election.
10. Internet Posting and Database
- Counties, cities, and independent school districts are required to post election information 21 days before an election.
- The secretary of state is required to maintain a database of election information, office-holders, and candidates.
11. Repealer; Severability; Transition; Effective Date
- Certain sections of the election code are repealed because of changes made in the other sections of the act.
- Provisions of the act are declared to be “severable,” meaning that if a court finds a portion of the bill to be held invalid, “the invalidity does not affect the other provisions or applications” of SB 7.
- If approved by both chambers and the governor, SB 7 will go into effect September 1, 2021.
The full text of the bill can be found here.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.