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Texas Legislature advances voting rights bill after overnight hearing

The Texas Legislature on Sunday voted to advance a second attempt to pass a controversial voting rights law following nearly 24 hours of hearings. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
The Texas Legislature on Sunday voted to advance a second attempt to pass a controversial voting rights law following nearly 24 hours of hearings. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

July 11 (UPI) -- The Texas State Legislature advanced a second effort to pass a Republican-led bill to introduce new voting restrictions after hearings that stretched overnight.

After nearly 24 hours of hearings that began on Saturday as nearly 300 witnesses arrived to testify, a key House committee voted 9-5 to approve along party lines to approve the new versions of the bill that faced opposition from Democrats and voting rights groups.

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A State Senate committee followed suit in approving a version of the voter legislation later Sunday.

Both Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3 remove some provisions from the original bill that drew strong pushback from Democrats including measures to restrict voting hours on Sunday and to make it easier for judges to overturn elections.

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However, they both also maintain provisions that would ban drive-thru and 24-hour voting, increase access for partisan poll watchers, prohibit local election officials from proactively sending out mail-in ballots, increase penalties for election workers who break regulations and limit assistance that can be provided to voters.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who called for the 30-day special session to pass the voting law, told Fox News Sunday that the bill's goal is to "achieve greater election integrity" in mail-in voting.

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"So what Texas is doing is we're making it easier to vote by adding more hours in early voting than we have in current law, but also making it harder to cheat with regard to mail-in ballots," he said.

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During the hearing, Democratic state Rep. John Bucy of Austin, joined voting rights activists and civil rights groups in expressing concern that the bill would make it more difficult for some groups of people to vote.

"We're going to make it harder for communities of color, for individuals with disabilities, for individuals where English isn't their primary language and for seniors to vote and to have access to the ballot box, even though the elections were a resounding success," said Bucy. "When I think about legislation I'm going to file, [I consider] what problem in this state do I want to solve, so I'm trying to figure out what problem is this bill trying to solve."

State Sen. Royce West, a Dallas Democrat, questioned why the bill would seek to prohibit options such as 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting rather than working to address concerns about their implementation.

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"Surely, we should be able to find ways to resolve those issues, especially if it's a convenient model for people to be able to vote," West said. "When we stand up and say, 'We can't fix it but we don't even want to look at trying to fix it,' I think it's inconsistent with the intent of the bill."

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Republican State Sen. Bryan Hughes argued that the measures are not "aimed at individual voters" and that requiring voters to go into polling places to cast their ballots is "not a radical concept."

"By and large, individual voters are trying to vote. They're trying to do the right thing. We want them to do taht. The security measures in this bill, by and large, are directed at vote harvesters or folks who are trying to steal votes," said Hughes.

In May, Democrats blocked the original effort to pass the bill by staging a walkout an hour before the midnight deadline for the vote.

Some Democrats have rallied behind a counter proposal filed by West that would allow online and same-day voter registration while expanding the early voting period along with other provisions.

Democrats in both changers have also not ruled out another quorum break to block the election bill, saying all options remain on the table.

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