87th LegislatureElections 2020IssuesState HouseTexas House Approves Election Integrity Bill After 17 Hours of Deliberation

After a long night of deliberation, the state House passed an amended version of the GOP priority election integrity bill.
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In a legislative day that lasted from Thursday until the early hours of Friday morning, House lawmakers debated and ultimately passed the Texas GOP’s priority election bill, Senate Bill (SB) 7, in an 81 to 64 vote.

The House passed the legislation after speeding through a series of perfecting amendments that were acceptable to the bill’s champion and sponsor, Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park). SB 7 passed to third reading, which means the chamber will vote on the legislation one more time.

After the bill is approved in another vote by the House, it will return to the Senate for approval or be sent to a conference committee to work out the differences between the Senate version of SB 7 and the House version of it, which replaced the text of the entire Senate version with House Bill (HB) 6.

Cain, the chair of the House Elections Committee and author of HB 6, said the legislation’s intent is to “protect people from being taken advantage of.”

The bill adds more stringent requirements for individuals assisting others with their ballots and includes detailed disclosures of information on people who assist voters.

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But Democrats contend that there is a lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud to justify the legislation and claim that the increased regulations on the election process is “voter suppression.”

Rep. Jessica González (D-Dallas), the vice-chair of the House Elections Committee whose time in the role has been nothing short of tense with Cain, was one of the chief opponents of the bill when it was brought to the floor on Thursday evening.

Lambasting the proposals during floor debate, González said, “It’s old Jim Crow, dressed up in what our colleagues are calling ‘election integrity.’”

Among other criticisms, she raised questions about the validity of the testimony heard on the bill.

“When they filled out their witness affirmation form, they took a sworn oath under penalty of perjury,” Cain said in rebuttal.

The House Elections Committee heard in-depth testimony on HB 6 in April that lasted almost a full 24 hours. During that hearing, the chief of the election fraud section in the Texas Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Division testified that voter fraud prosecutions are at an “all-time high.”

Interactions between Democrats on the committee and Cain have been pointedly acrimonious, something that contributed to delays on the House bill while the Senate was able to usher SB 7 through their chamber more expediently.

The House Elections Committee eventually moved HB 6 out of the committee, but not long before SB 7 reached Cain’s desk.

More drama unfolded in the House committee after Cain brought up SB 7 to be voted on without a hearing, noting that the entire text of the Senate bill had been replaced with the similar, but different House election integrity legislation that the committee already heard testimony on and approved.

The move riled González and the other Democrats on the committee, who subsequently asked U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to consider directing the federal Civil Rights Division to monitor the committee’s proceedings and what they characterized as “voter disenfranchisement” bills.

When SB 7 was brought to the House floor on Thursday, it was initially met with fierce opposition from Democrats.

Opponents of the bill, including Rep. Ann Johnson (D-Houston), argued that provisions in the legislation to prohibit paid vote harvesting could be used to prosecute family members for simply helping with their loved ones’ campaigns. Cain contended that no such prosecution would ever be successful and that criminal prosecutions under the proposed laws would require an element of malicious intent, known in legal circles as “mens rea.”

An amendment by González to strike the enacting clause, which is a method of attempting to kill a piece of legislation, failed by a vote of 65 to 80.

Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) criticized the bills as exercises in “arrogance, exclusion, and confusion.”

“State leaders have used the big lie of voter fraud to justify voter suppression for some time now,” Turner said, saying he is wary of reading the phrase “discriminatory intent” used in legal judgments to describe the Texas legislature.

Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth) and others raised concerns about voter intimidation by way of increased protection for poll watchers. Cain rebutted those claims by saying inappropriate behavior toward voters is “already prohibited by the code,” specifically Election Code Sec. 276.001.

After a point of order was raised by Rep. John Turner (D-Dallas), the House spent several hours considering the motion before moving on to other bills late Thursday night and early Friday morning.

Once returning to SB 7 on Friday morning, a number of amendments were added to the bill — notably with many coming from Democrats, but quickly accepted by Cain and the Republicans without objection — which can be found here.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.