87th LegislatureElections 2020State SenateTexas Senate Approves Priority Election Integrity Bill Along Party Lines

Senate Bill 7, the sweeping GOP election bill filed in the Texas Senate, was approved by the upper chamber in a partisan vote early Thursday morning.
April 1, 2021
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In a vote along party lines, the Republican-controlled state Senate sent their chief election bill to the Texas House of Representatives near 2:00 a.m. Thursday morning.

The package, Senate Bill (SB) 7, was passed 18 to 13 after long hours of debate and consideration of 28 amendments in the wee hours of the night.

Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, was the primary author of the bill.

“This bill is about making it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” said Hughes in a video after the legislation passed. “We had a long debate, scores of amendments were offered, and at the end of the day, the Texas Senate passed a strong election integrity bill that we can be proud of.”

SB 7 will now be received by the House and sent to committee, likely the House Elections Committee where the major House election integrity bill, House Bill (HB) 6, is being heard on Thursday.

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Like many other election bills across the country, Republicans have emphasized that the election bills are designed to tighten safeguards against potential voter fraud to ensure election integrity, while Democrats have criticized the legislation as voter suppression.

Major provisions in SB 7 include allowing poll watchers to record in some circumstances, establishing a system to track mail ballots, and codifying a prohibition on drive-through voting.

The committee substitute for the bill was further modified by 12 other amendments during the floor procedure.

Hughes’ perfecting amendment, approved by a party-line vote, softened several of the restrictions of the original bill.

For instance, while the original bill would have required people who drive any curbside voters to the poll to complete a form with their name and address, the amendment limited such drivers only to those who bring three or more curbside voters at once who are unrelated to the driver.

The regulation would not apply to people who transport others to a polling place for voting inside the physical location.

Three other GOP amendments were adopted along party lines: Sen. Bob Hall’s (R-Edgewood) prohibition on voting equipment from being capable of internet access, Hall’s repeal of the authority of the secretary of state to waive certain election requirements, and Sen. Dawn Buckingham’s (R-Lakeway) increased regulations to safeguard against ballot harvesting.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) introduced an amendment that was adopted without any objection which struck out more stringent requirements for people who apply for mail ballot applications under a disability requirement to provide evidence of their disability. However, with the amendment, the definition of what constitutes a disability will be listed on the application form.

Two other Democrats also had their amendments accepted and added to the bill — one from Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) that would allow people who are in line to vote when the polls close to remain in line, and another from Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) that will require poll watchers to swear an oath that they will not disrupt the voting process.

West’s amendment originally included a provision that would require poll watchers to undergo some training, but he removed that after Hughes indicated opposition to that provision but support for an oath.

Fifteen other amendments filed by Democrats were struck down in party line votes, but all amendments from Republicans — save one from Hall that he withdrew to introduce later as a separate bill — were adopted.

Four GOP amendments had no objections: Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R-Friendswood) clarification that all eligible votes must be counted, Hall’s requirement that communications between election officials and election vendors be subject to open records, Hall’s requirement that memory devices in ballot scanners can only be written on once, and Hall’s new regulations to validate the accuracy of voting machines before an election.

If passed by the House, the Senate’s election security omnibus would not come without a cost.

The Legislative Budget Board, which estimates the costs of bills, provided a fiscal note for the committee substitute of SB 7 estimating a cost of $34 million.

Of that, about $24 million would be needed for the “replacement or retrofitting” of voting machines, and another $10 million would be spent on new ballot scanners.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who made SB 7 one of his top priorities for the session, applauded its final passage of the Senate in a press release on Thursday.

“SB 7 will strengthen the public’s faith in our electoral process and ensure that every Texan knows that when they cast their ballot, their vote is secure. I congratulate Sen. Hughes and the Texas Senate for passing these comprehensive reforms,” said Patrick.

The bill was met with much less fanfare from Democrats.

Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) told Hughes on the floor, “When I see this bill, I see clear suppression.”

Miles said that in passing the bill, the Texas Republicans were “kicking a bear.”

“In the times we’re living in now, with people marching for social injustice; in the times we’re living in now, that people aren’t afraid to protest; in the times we’re living in right now, where our young folks are ready, fired up, and willing to go, ready to be heard, ready to be seen, ready to act; they’re getting organized and getting mobilized — what SB 7 is doing, I want to thank you, brother,” Miles told Hughes.

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Daniel Friend

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.