A voter drops off her ballot at the Bexar County Elections Office.
Overnight Thursday, the Texas Senate passed a controversial bill that would ban municipalities such as San Antonio from ensuring increased voter access and give partisan poll watchers more access to voting sites.
Part of a national scramble by Republicans to restrict state voting laws, the measure's passage comes after Texas last November tallied its highest voter numbers in recent years. Democrats also increased turnout in large cities and suburbs that cycle.
GOP politicos including Gov. Greg Abbott have argued Senate Bill 7 is about restoring "election integrity" and preventing voter fraud. However, despite claims from former President Donald Trump and others, there's been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in recent elections.
“Overall, this bill is designed to address areas throughout the process where bad actors can take advantage, so Texans can feel confident that their elections are fair, honest and open,” said State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, when presenting the bill, according to the Texas Tribune
But voting-rights advocates say SB7's provisions, which include limiting polling hours statewide and banning municipalities from offering drive-thru voting and other efforts to widen access, aren't meant to thwart fraud. Instead, they argue, those rules would create longer lines in urban areas, potentially disenfranchising voters of color.
The measure would also give poll watchers more access to voting locations — a change critics say would lead to voter intimidation. Voting-rights advocates argue such steps are a throwback to Texas' long history of suppressing minority voters.
“Republicans’ actions yesterday will go down in infamy as a racist, terrifying attempt to plunge Texas back into Jim Crow. This is not who we are. This is not what our state stands for," Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in an emailed statement. "This will do immeasurable harm to Texas communities. Yet Republicans, in their shortsighted, self-serving political games, voted last night to gut the foundations of our democracy: Texans’ constitutional right to vote."
Hinojosa said Democrats and voting-rights organizations will sue to stop the restrictions from taking effect if the bill is passed through the Republican-controlled House and is signed into law by Abbott.
“An attack on our right to vote is an attack on our communities and our future," Hinojosa said. "We will not be silenced.”
There was at least one victory for voting-rights advocates, however. The Senate approved an amendment by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that would strike down a portion of the original bill that would force people who vote by mail because of a disability to provide medical documentation as proof.
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