Texas lawmakers returned on Thursday to the state Capitol in Austin for a special session which will tackle a host of conservative priorities that failed in the regular session. Though Gov. Greg Abbott outlined his 11 priorities earlier this week, immediate focus will likely lie with GOP efforts to enact an overhaul of the state’s election rules.
Republicans in both chambers have released versions of the controversial bill. Measures from the regular session seeking to clamp down on vote-by-mail options and impose strict new ID requirements feature in both Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3. There were also provisions seeking a uniform code, new requirements for reporting ineligible voters, a ban on curbside and straight-ticket voting along with unsolicited vote-by-mail applications, new powers for poll watchers, limits on drop boxes, heightened restrictions for early voting, new rules for voting assistance, and a ban on vote harvesting.
Neither chamber has attempted to push through the controversial proposal to restrict the start time for Sunday early voting hours that would have directly impacted “souls to the polls” initiatives to increase turnout among Black church groups. However, proposals put forward by Senate Republicans are notably stricter than those in the lower chamber. While the House is seeking to establish a new voting window of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., the Senate would cut off voting at 9 p.m. Other discrepancies include a higher population threshold for counties required to provide at least 12 hours of early voting each weekday of the second week of early voting in state elections. The Senate version also included a monthly review of the state’s massive voter rolls to identify possible non-citizens.
If passed, the wide-ranging legislation would tighten the state’s voting restrictions that are already among the strictest in the country. Republicans were quick to defend the bills against attacks from Democrats, civil rights groups and voting rights advocates.
“In Texas elections, we want to make sure it is easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Republican state Senator Bryan Hughes and author of the Senate version said in a statement on Thursday. “Senate Bill 1 does just that by making sure Texans can cast their votes with confidence that they’ll be counted and the results will be reported accurately.”