Texas Legislature Set to Vote on Election Bill – The Wall Street Journal

AUSTIN, Texas—Texas lawmakers are poised to vote Thursday on a Republican-sponsored election bill that has received pushback from civil-rights groups and major corporations.

The Texas bill comes after voting laws passed in Georgia and Florida that Republicans say will increase election security and Democrats contend will restrict voting access, particularly to minority communities. Florida Gov.

Ron DeSantis,

a Republican, signed the measure into law there Thursday morning.

The Texas House is expected to vote on a bill that would increase criminal penalties for some voting irregularities. If it passes, it could be harmonized alongside a bill already passed by the state Senate that limits early voting hours, prohibits drive-through voting and allows partisan poll watchers to photograph people voting.

Republican Gov.

Greg Abbott

made the election bills a priority of the biennial session. In March, he said, “In the 2020 election, we witnessed actions throughout our state that could risk the integrity of our elections and enable voter fraud, which is why I made election integrity an emergency item.”

A political battle over voting reform is heating up in Washington and across the country following the changes brought by the pandemic during the 2020 election. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann

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.”

On Tuesday, about 50 companies and business associations issued a joint statement that said they opposed “any changes that would restrict eligible voters’ access to the ballot” in Texas. Companies like

Microsoft Corp.

,

American Airlines Group Inc.

and

Unilever

PLC signed the statement. A second letter, sent Tuesday to Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, was signed by some members of the Greater Houston Partnership, a business organization, that included 175 business executives, lawyers and other prominent Houstonians.

Companies have struggled with how to respond to changes to voting laws across the country, mindful that many of their employees and customers oppose the laws but also wary of getting drawn into heated political battles.

In Texas, voting-rights groups and state Democrats urged companies to oppose the state bill after it passed the Senate in early April.

American Airlines

issued a statement on April 1 opposing the legislation. On April 6, Lt.

Gov. Dan Patrick

publicly reprimanded the company and said it hadn’t read the bill. A representative for American Airlines said they had read the bill.

Republican lawmakers in several states have pushed bills this year that would change voting rules, including new limits on mail-in voting. Democrats have noted these proposals follow former President

Donald Trump’s

unproven claims that he lost the 2020 election due to fraud. No court or election authority has found evidence of widespread fraud in the presidential election.

Georgia’s new law, passed in March, included new identification requirements for mail-in voters and set limits on drop boxes, among other measures. Florida’s new law also includes new rules governing drop boxes and new identification requirements for voters seeking mail ballots.

Some of the Texas measures proposed by Republicans have come as a reaction to efforts prompted by the coronavirus pandemic in Harris County, the nation’s third-largest county, which includes Houston. Republicans objected to the county’s efforts to make voting more accessible with 24-hour polling locations, drive-through voting locations and distribution of applications for mail-in ballots, which are tightly restricted in Texas.

The House and Senate each moved a major voting bill this session, and whether and how they ultimately come together is an open question.

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A bill passed by the Senate would limit early voting hours and mandate an equal number of voting machines at polling locations in major cities. Proponents said those measures are a matter of fairness and standardization, while opponents said they would make it impossible for local elections administrators to increase voting availability. The powers granted to poll watchers under the bill have drawn particular concern from Democrats as creating an opportunity for voter harassment, while Republicans have said they would help ferret out fraud.

A House bill would reduce flexibility within the election code and make its penalties more severe, in an effort to crack down on abnormalities. Opponents say it would criminalize simple procedural errors.

Both bills would ban public officials from distributing applications for mail-in ballots, place additional restrictions on voters who require assistance and make it difficult for an election worker to remove a partisan poll watcher for any reason.

Democrats have expressed greater opposition to the Senate version of the bill. In a procedural move last week by the House elections committee, the Republican-controlled committee married the two versions, taking out the most controversial Senate provisions. Democrats fear the severe provisions could be reinserted without public input after passage by a joint House and Senate conference committee that decides on final language.

Voting Legislation

Read more state election-law coverage, selected by WSJ editors

Write to Elizabeth Findell at Elizabeth.Findell@wsj.com

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