Texas Republicans passed their bill restricting voting rights on Friday afternoon, after cutting a deal with Democrats in backroom negotiations overnight.
“Nobody deserves to wake up and find out that their rights have been further restricted. But time and time again during this legislative session, that’s what Texans have experienced,” said Wesley Story, communications manager for Progress Texas, a rapid response media organization for progressive messaging.
The Texas house of representatives voted 78-64 to give Senate Bill 7 (SB7) final approval, setting up an opportunity for the Republican-controlled legislature to create a Frankenstein of voting restrictions behind closed doors.
“This is really one of the last straws of … this nonstop attack – on communities of color, on immigrant communities, on communities that just don’t have as much of a voice – to try to prevent them from speaking out,” said Gene Wu, a state representative.
“We’re just tired of our districts being told that they’re second-class citizens.”
Armed with more than 100 amendments, opponents of Senate Bill 7 tore into the legislation on Thursday evening. Their long-winded debate was intended “to drive home the point and to really emphasize that there is no reason for this legislation”, Wu said.
In response, the state house approved a series of amendments addressing some of SB7’s most controversial provisions. Those amendments, in part, target the bill’s severe criminal penalties, along with concerns over emboldening partisan poll watchers.
The legislation will now probably go to a conference committee, where both legislative chambers can reconcile differences in the versions they passed.
Because of maneuvering by the house, lawmakers will be able to pull language from both the senate’s version of SB7 and HB6 – Texas’s two most high-profile restrictive voting bills this cycle – during these negotiations.
SB7 and HB6 were designed as sweeping reforms to Texas’s electoral apparatus, targeting innovations such as the proactive distribution of vote-by-mail applications, late-night voting hours and drive-through voting that became flashpoints during last year’s election.
“At the end of the day, these bills discourage participation in the democratic process, and their overall goal is to keep voters from the polls,” Story said.
“And we know that specifically people of color, folks with disabilities – those are the types of voters that are going to be impacted the most due to many of the restrictions that we’ve seen, that are staying within the bill.”
Texas’s leaders have been pushing voting restrictions for months under the guise of “election integrity”, after many Texans were convinced by the “big lie” that widespread election fraud stole the 2020 presidential contest.
Their opponents believe that Republicans – who, as of now, hold largely unchecked control over state government – are trying to pre-empt changing demographics that could eventually boot them from office.
“This is the governor’s priority. This is the lieutenant governor’s priority. This is the speaker’s priority. This is the Republican party of Texas’s priority,” Wu said.
“Whether they’re public about it or not, in the back hallways, this is their most important piece of legislation – because they need this to stay in power.”