Just as in the states of Georgia and Florida, Texas lawmakers are also preparing to vote on a major election bill known as HB6 that is causing intense debate across the state.
Democrats and various businesses oppose HB 6 on the grounds that it will restrict voting rights. Republicans, on the other hand, argue that the law will help increase election security following the controversial November 2020 election, when the massive implementation of vote-by-mail voting was first pushed through in much of the country after a major legal campaign by Democrats.
Criticisms and defenses of HB 6
According to The Wall Street Journal, Texas lawmakers would vote on Thursday in the House of Representatives. If the majority votes yes, criminal penalties for certain voting irregularities would go in crescendo.
The WSJ said the bill passed in the Texas Senate, known as Senate Bill 7, could be intertwined with the new election bill HB 6 because of their similarities. SB 7 is criticized for limiting Democrat-imposed early voting hours in 2020, banning drive-through voting, and giving greater powers and facilities to poll watchers to guard election processes.
The state’s Republican authorities are turning electoral security into one of their strong political flags in response to the Democrats who last year managed to push tools and mechanisms that allowed an “expansion” of the right to vote in Harris-Houston County, one of the largest in the country.
According to the WSJ, Democrats pushed for mechanisms in Harris County to achieve voting centers open for 24 hours, places to vote from the car, and allow greater facilities for distribution of mail-in ballot applications, which is quite restricted in Texas.
The Texas Tribune explains in an article that Bill 7 restricts 24-hour shifts at polling places, but instead allows smaller counties to offer early voting.
According to the media outlet, now only counties with 100,000 can offer a minimum of 12 hours of early voting in Texas. This period usually lasts about two weeks before Election Day.
SB 7 would change this by forcing counties with a population of 30,000 to offer the opportunity for early voting. In this respect, the law does not restrict early voting but rather increases it. However, it also sets a 12-hour limit, so counties that have early voting centers with more than 24 hours would have schedule restrictions.
Reforming vote by mail and poll watchers
According to ABC News, HB 6 makes it a state crime for election officials to send applications to vote by mail to citizens who did not request the form.
“HB 6 also requires people who help voters cast their ballots to submit documentation describing why the voter needed help, even if the voter needed assistance due to medical reasons,” the media outlet reported. The person assisting the voter is also required to submit their own personal contact information and must include their relationship to the voter.”
Another issue that is generating conflicts between Democrats and Republicans is the powers granted to election observers, who will have greater facilities to safeguard the voting processes and could only be expelled if they commit a crime or electoral fraud.
Critics say that granting so many powers to observers would promote voter intimidation and may provoke unpleasant behavior on the part of those guarding the process.
In contrast, supporters of the bill argue that legal protections for observers reduce the possibility of fraud and strengthen the electoral system.
Democrats and Businesses vs. Republicans
Just as Republicans believe in unison that they must strengthen and shield the electoral system, Democrats in Texas believe they must make it more flexible, as well as facilitate voting rights. Big businesses in Texas are also taking the Democratic side on this issue, albeit in an underhanded way. So far, there is no boycott against Texas as there was in Georgia.
Opponents say the bill could make it harder for people to exercise their voting rights. “Criminalizing things that could be a simple mistake could be a deterrent to finding poll workers,” said Rep. Jessica González, a Dallas-area Democrat who is the House election committee vice-chair. “I think it’s a terrible piece of legislation.”
In addition, on Tuesday, May 4, around 50 corporations and business associations declared through a missive their opposition to “any changes that would restrict eligible voters’ access to the ballot.” Among the corporate signatories were Microsoft Corp. American Airlines Group Inc. and Unilever PLC.
The companies’ stances against election reforms have been criticized by Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz, who wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal chastising the big companies: “Enough is enough. Corporations that flagrantly misrepresent efforts to protect our elections need to be called out, singled out and cut off.”