In the middle of the night, on a party-line vote, the Senate passed legislation that would restrict counties’ efforts to expand access to voting, place new requirements on volunteers assisting and transporting voters, permit the video recording of voting and vote counting, and add various new criminal penalties while enhancing others, all to “strengthen the public’s faith in our electoral process,” according to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R).

Opponents, including Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa, said the bill amounted to “the worst voter suppression we’ve seen since Jim Crow, a full-on assault on the voting rights of Texans with disabilities and Black and Latino voters.”

Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) would reduce election administrators’ abilities to distribute voting equipment at countywide polling places, conceivably barring the use of a stadium, convention center or other large space capable of handling large volumes of voters, and prohibit drive-through voting or the use of a temporary structure as a polling place. The bill would prevent public officials from sending absentee ballot applications that a voter did not specifically ask for and prohibit public funding for anyone else to do so. It would require voters applying for an absentee ballot on the basis of a disability to affirm that they qualify to do so. A previous version required voters to demonstrate proof of their disability – such as a doctor’s note – to qualify, but that was removed by an amendment from Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo).

Hughes said the bill would ensure uniform application of election laws across the state.

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