With the chamber of Congress and its committees controlled by Democrats, the hearing was titled “Democracy in Danger: The Assault on Voting Rights in Texas” and was framed with a bias favoring Democrats’ viewpoint.
Three of the state House Democrats who are currently breaking quorum to prevent the passage of the legislation — Reps. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), and Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) — were invited to testify, while Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) was the lone House Republican who appeared.
Also testifying was Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).
Although the witnesses were chosen to highlight Democrats’ perspective, Republicans and Democrats on the subcommittee had an equal share of time to question them.
At the request of Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX-17), the ranking member of the committee, three other Texas Republican congressmen who are not currently on the subcommittee were permitted to sit in on the hearing to ask questions: Reps. Pat Fallon (R-TX-04), Chip Roy (R-TX-21), and Michael Cloud (R-TX-27).
Reps. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX-07) and Marc Veasey (D-TX-33) also joined the hearing.
The hearing presented little new substance different from the rhetoric that has surrounded the debate over Texas’ election bill thus far: Democrats attacked the legislation as a bill that will suppress votes while Republicans defended it as something that would make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
A clearer ban on drive-thru and 24-hour voting, new regulations on voter assistants, a requirement of voter ID for mail ballot applications, a prohibition on election officials from sending unsolicited mail ballot applications, and expanded protections for poll watchers were all policies touched on throughout the hearing.
“We have seen a concerted effort in various states to pass legislation that would limit access to the ballot. It would not expand access; it would reduce access. And what is happening in Texas is no different,” said Collier in her opening statement.
Clardy, the Texas House Republican present via Zoom, said that he was “grateful for the invitation to be here” but believed “this conversation is best suited for the Texas House floor in our state capitol in Austin rather than a Washington, D.C. committee hearing room.”
In his opening remarks, Bernal outlined a potential scenario to discuss the practical implications of what the process would look like for voting assistants if the GOP proposal is approved.
Under House Bill (HB) 3, individuals who assist voters at the polls would be required to fill out a form with personal information, and the oath taken by voter assistants would be expanded to require them to swear that their assistance is limited to reading or marking the ballot or directing the voter to do so.
Further, the assistant must swear that they “did not pressure or coerce the voter into choosing me to provide assistance,” which Bernal said could call into question an assistant who is the voter’s neighbor and encourages them to vote.
The Democrats received pushback on complaints about the voting ID provision of the bill when Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) asked Thompson about a series of things for which ID is required in Texas, from applying for a job to flying on a plane.
Roy honed in on the Democrats’ efforts to push back against the GOP’s election integrity bill while urging the passage of a federal law that would restrict states’ ability to manage their own elections and redistricting processes.
“For the record, the representatives from Texas believe that they should have to defer to Washington, defer to the federal government, on what we should do for election laws in the state of Texas,” said Roy after each of the three Texas Democrats said that they believed election laws passed in the state should be submitted to the Department of Justice for preclearance.
“Each of the three of you are aware that you are in fact violating Texas law by being here right now, instead of being in Texas during the legislative session and that it would be in order to arrest you, were you in the state of Texas to get you back to the state House?” asked Roy.
Bernal said he wasn’t “sure those laws are constitutional,” but Thompson said she was “ready to be arrested.”
“I’m not violating the law and I’m representing my constituents,” said Thompson. “Bring the handcuffs on and I’m ready to go.”
“I appreciate that that’s your view on the matter. I think that makes the case precisely,” said Roy.
Fallon, one of Texas’ freshman representatives who previously served in the state legislature, was given extra time to speak from several of his colleagues on the committee and likewise pushed back against several of the Democrats’ claims.
An issue had come up earlier in the hearing regarding the requirement for voters to provide in a mail ballot application their driver’s license number, the last four digits of their social security number, or stating that they had not been assigned either number.
Some critics have claimed that if a voter fails to use the same identifying number, even if it’s accurate, that their mail ballot application will be rejected and they will be unable to vote.
To that, Fallon said that he “got a text from your colleagues that are in Austin,” and they said they were aware of the concern and would “cure it via an amendment.” Fallon later expounded further that state Rep. Andy Murr (R-Junction), the bill’s author, made a public commitment during a committee hearing to fix the issue with a floor amendment.
During the hearing referenced, Murr said that “in practice,” the secretary of state trains clerks to actually “check the numbers to make sure that they jive.”
“To take that extra step, if that’s something that will eliminate your concern, I have no problem doing and putting that language in the bill,” Murr told state Rep. John Bucy (D-Austin), who had raised the concern.
At the congressional hearing, Fallon pushed back against Democrats’ criticisms on other parts of the Texas election bills. He noted that only Harris County experimented with 24-hour and drive-thru voting in the November election cycle, while no other counties in the state did.
With criticisms lobbed against Texas as being one of the hardest states to vote in, Fallon also raised the fact that the Lone Star State provides much more early voting time than other states — something that would be expanded under the GOP proposal, which would require employers to allow employees time off to vote during the early voting period and not only on election day.
“Would you join me in condemning Connecticut and New Hampshire and Delaware and New York and New Jersey, for being racially insensitive by not having two weeks of early voting?” Fallon asked Collier.
“I’m not familiar with what’s going on in those other states,” responded Collier.
Veasey, the last of the members in the Texas delegation to ask questions of the witnesses, defended the quorum break as a legitimate procedural maneuver for Democrats to use.
He pointed to former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s move to create an exemption in the state Senate’s two-thirds rule “instead of working with the other side so they could get the votes needed to pass redistricting and to pass voter ID.”
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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.