Texas GOP lawmakers early Friday advanced their voting bill after hours of debate concerning the bill that supporters insist will protect voters from fraud and coercion and will ensure the integrity of the ballot.
"The purpose of this is to make it even more safe and secure," said Rep. Brisco Cain, who chairs the House Elections Committee, reports Fox News affiliate KDFW in Fort Worth. "The Constitution commands the legislature to pass legislation to attack fraud and to preserve the purity of the ballot box, and I’ve seen a lot of polling suggesting the trust in our elections process is down."
At about 3 a.m. local time, the House voted in a party-line vote of 81-64 to advance a watered-down version of Senate Bill 7. The chamber has 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats.
GOP Gov. Greg Abbott has made it a priority for lawmakers to pass election legislation before their session ends on May 31, reports NBC News. Republican lawmakers employed a legislative maneuver to advance the bill quickly by replacing the S.B.-7 wording with those from another piece of legislation, House Bill 6.
A second vote will still be required to move S.B.-7 out of the House, reports NBC News, noting that after that ballot, the House and Senate bills will likely end up in the hands of a conference committee for reconciliation before being sent to Abbott for a signature.
Friday morning's vote came after Democrats in the House had vowed an all-night fight over the bill. For several hours, they raised questions of Cain on their claims that the measure would suppress the vote and have negative effects on voters of color.
The bill increases penalties for voting crimes, bans mass distributions of applications for mail-in ballots, and increases partisan poll watchers, reports The Dallas Morning News.
Cain, R-Deer Park, told the newspaper that the bill does not suppress voters, but will "make them even more safe and secure."
"We don't have to wait for bad things to happen to try to protect and secure these elections," he added.
The House Democrats, though, posed questions seen as laying the groundwork for legal action should the bill become law.
"Key provisions of this bill will almost certainly be overturned by the courts," Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, told the newspaper. "It’s a straight-up assault on voting rights."
Democrats had vowed to file more than 100 amendments, according to a tweet posted by Rep. James Talarico. "We're prepared to fight this all night. Good trouble. Necessary trouble."
Their amendments included measures to lower the bill's proposed criminal penalities, to clarify that judges and volunteers would not be held legally liable for honest mistakes, and calling for the state to send applications to high schools to register voters and to develop a way to track early ballots online, reports Fox News.
The final agreement reached left the bill with 20 amendments that did water down some of the provisions advocates said were most troublesome, reports NBC News.
Texas lawmakers voted after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed his state's new legislation live in an event held exclusively on Fox News.
"We're making sure we're enforcing voter ID," DeSantis commented while signing Florida's Senate Bill 90. "We're also banning ballot harvesting. We're not going to let political operatives go and get satchels of votes to dump them in some dropbox."
He added that the bill also bans "mass mailing of balloting."
The debate in Texas started at around 6 p.m. local time after negotiations on the measure broke down. State Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, the Election Committee's Democrat vice chair, said her side wanted to "soften" the bill's language.
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