Senate Bill 9 supporters, opponents face off at Texas Capitol

The hearing rooms for the House Elections Committee remained empty for most of the day as discussion on Senate Bill 9 was delayed as lawmakers worked on other issues on the House floor. 

That didn't stop those opposed to the election reform measure from holding a rally Wednesday morning on the north steps of the Texas Capitol. Those at the gathering claim that voter fraud doesn't exist and that SB 9 is a voter suppression bill and a Republican Party ploy to make it harder to vote for those who support Democrats.

"We organize young people, we take first time voters, people who have been historically disenfranchised and get them involved in the process,” said Alex Brinel with MOVE Texas. “SB 9 is a signal to do the opposite, it says hey if you're interested in the system it's a system that can potentially criminalize you.”

The group is also upset that the chairperson of the House Elections Committee, Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth), put a cap on how many people can speak at the hearing. More than 100 signed up before registration was closed.

“There are still several hundred people who traveled from across the state to have their voice heard in that hearing room,” said James Slattery with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Klick made no apologies for limiting how many could sign up to speak. Doing so prevents opponents from trying to talk the measure to death.

"In order to hear from folks we have limited testimony to two minutes,” Klick said. “So we could have had a formal hearing without any public testimony at all, at this stage of the session, I didn't think that wise, so we are going to have quite a bit of public testimony.”

The claims that the purpose of the bill is to hinder voter participation was also disputed by Klick. She defended how the bill makes it a felony for anyone to intentionally commit voter fraud, which is currently a misdemeanor.

"This is an enhancement in many cases,” said Klick.

A section that regulates those who bring elderly and handicapped voters to the polls was also clarified. 

“What the intent was is only for those that are curbside voting, and requires assistance, not for anybody that rides a taxi cab or a bus to a polling place, only those that require assistance when they curbside vote,” said Klick. 

The goal, according to Klick, is to make sure vulnerable people do not have their votes manipulated by another person. 

The bill also originally addressed concerns about electronic voting machines. But language was removed that would have created a pilot program to study machines which are able to print out paper ballots. 

After the hearing, the measure moves to the House for a floor debate where it’s expected to face another tough fight.