The heavily party-divided Texas House gave its final approval Friday to legislation making sweeping changes to the state’s election and election laws, giving Republican leaders a delayed victory on a priority issue.
Senate Bill 1, passed 80-41 with 21 Democrats opting out, returned to the Senate, where Senators on Friday night refused to accept changes in the House and appointed a conference committee to negotiate a final version of SB 1.
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Friday’s House vote was a milestone in a fight that divided the Texas legislature along partisan lines, inspiring a walkout from House Democrats that caught national attention, scuttled the first special session of 30 days in July and threatened to derail the second, and current, overtime session.
The Democratic bloc cracked last week, however, when enough members of the minority party returned to Austin, providing a quorum that allowed the House to resume its business.
And one of the Republicans’ first agendas was the passage of SB 1, saying it would strengthen election integrity by increasing scrutiny and creating new crimes or tougher penalties related to voter fraud.
The bill would also ban drive-thru and 24-hour voting, add identification requirements to mail-in ballots, and protect the ability of pro-poll observers to observe polling stations and counting operations.
“This bill will go a long way in ensuring the integrity of our elections,” said Rep. Jim Murphy, leader of the Republican House caucus, repeating the GOP mantra that SB 1 “will make it easier to vote and more difficult to cheat “.
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Friday’s vote saw only one representative cross party lines – Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who voted against SB 1.
All 40 Democrats in attendance on Friday voted against the bill, with several saying efforts should focus on improving voter access with initiatives such as voter registration online or on election day.
Instead, Republicans wasted an opportunity by focusing on restrictions that will disproportionately impact voters of color, said Representative Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, one of nine Democrats to speak out. against SB 1 to close Friday’s debate.
The bill, Turner said, was inspired by the “big lie” that President Donald Trump was denied a second term due to widespread electoral fraud, a conspiracy theory unleashing a toxic threat and dangerous for democracy.
“He and other Republicans have driven their base into a frenzy with crazed voter fraud plots,” Turner said.
“This bill was never about electoral security or voter integrity. It was always about using the big lie to justify restricting access to the ballot box,” he said. .
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Representative Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, a black woman who remembers having to pay a ballot tax to vote when she was young, said SB 1 was a continuation of an attack on the right to vote of non-white citizens .
“If you think you are winning today by the things you put in this bill, let me make a prophetic statement to you. You will reap what you sow,” Thompson told Republicans. “It will be sooner than you think.
Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, used Friday’s vote to call for congressional action to protect voting rights nationwide, saying SB 1 should become law 91 days after the session ends extraordinary.
“We have 90 days to act,” he said. “The clock is turning.”
“We’ll see you at the polls”
But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, said SB 1 was the product of more than 35 hours of debate in the House between the regular session that ended in May and two sessions. special.
“We are all striving to improve ourselves, and I think that is what we envision with this legislation, is to improve the Texas Election Code,” Murr said, his voice hoarse after nearly 13 hours of operation. debate Thursday on SB 1.
Moments before the House proceeded to its final vote on SB 1, Representative Harold Dutton, D-Houston, engaged Murr in a back-and-forth discussion on the House floor.
“Do you think there is election fraud in Texas?” asked Dutton.
“Generally speaking, I think there is always a risk of fraud,” replied Murr. “We have seen examples of fraud in the past.”
Dutton ended by acknowledging that the fight for SB 1 is almost over, but said a bigger fight is looming: “We’re going to vote, so we’ll see you at the polls.”
Once the House appoints its five members to the conference committee, they will negotiate a final version of SB 1 that will need to be approved by both chambers.
The bill’s mover, Senator Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said on Friday that he will determine the next step after considering the changes in the House.