87th LegislatureLocal NewsHouston, Harris County Democratic Officials Denounce State Election Reform Legislation

Mayor Sylvester Turner was joined by a host of elected officials in a press conference denouncing state election integrity bills they say constitute voter suppression.
April 5, 2021
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At a press conference in Houston Monday, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D), and other elected officials and community organization leaders emphatically denounced a pair of election reform bills progressing through the state Legislature.

Turner characterized the bills, Senate Bill (SB) 7 and House Bill (HB) 6, as “voter suppression” efforts that are comparable to the Jim Crow laws of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that required literacy tests and other criteria in order to vote.

“In 2021 we find ourselves again fighting bills filed in legislatures across this country that would restrict, suppress the right of people to vote: Jim Crow 2.0,” said Turner.

Turner said the bills would limit early voting hours, prohibit drive-thru voting and mailing out unsolicited mail ballot applications, ban third parties from delivering filled-out ballots, add paperwork for those assisting voters in filling out ballots, and restrict the number of voting machines available at county-wide voting sites. 

Lee joined Turner in condemning SB 7 for expanding poll watcher access to election procedures and allowing such watchers to video in some circumstances.

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“Have you ever been an elderly person, a disabled person, a bilingual person and had a poll watcher?” asked Lee. “I have seen them in my polling places. They have the sense of intimidation that really sends people out of the polls.” 

“This bill says that they will have access to the polling places. They will be able to watch over your shoulder. They will be able to watch while someone is helping a physically or mentally challenged American who has the right to vote. That is intimidation.”

In her comments, Hidalgo called the bills voter harassment and a direct attack on the successful election conducted in Harris County, which implemented 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting in 2020 with record turnout. She also called for corporations to act in response.

“If you’re a major corporation with a base here in Texas or not, take a stand right now,” said Hidalgo. “Your influence and dollars can save us from this latest attack on our democracy, in fact it may be the only thing that can.”

Fort Bend County Judge KP George (D) said the proposed reforms would suppress voters in his highly diverse county which includes a 68 percent minority population.

“We all know who is going to get suppressed: the minorities,” said George.

Other speakers at the presser included Harris County Commissioners Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) and Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2), representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Women Voters, the NBA, and several business groups.

Norma Crosby, president of the National Federation of the Blind in Texas, said the proposed legislation would label disabled persons as “voter cheats” since it would require proving disability before obtaining accommodations. SB 7 however, was amended to strike more stringent requirements for people who apply for mail ballot applications under a disability requirement to provide evidence of their disability.

In response to a Fox 26 reporter’s question, Turner flatly stated, “There is no evidence of voter fraud,” but then later clarified that there was “little to no evidence of voter fraud.”

Last year a social worker in Limestone County was charged with 134 counts of voter fraud, and this year a Medina County official and three others were arrested on charges of voter fraud.

Regarding Governor Greg Abbott’s letter declining to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Texas Ranger’s opening home game this week, Turner said, “The governor is wrong.”

“MLB pulled out of Georgia because the legislature passed a voter suppression bill,” said Turner who explained that the Georgia bill relied on voter identification requirements.

“I applaud MLB,” said Turner. “There is a price when you enact or implement voter suppression laws.”

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.