AUSTIN, Texas - The state legislature is one step closer to passing sweeping new voting restrictions. The Texas Senate approved SB-7 around 2:30 a.m. Thursday and it will move on to the House.
That early morning vote followed eight hours of debate that began Wednesday night. SB 7 would limit extended early voting hours, prohibit drive-through voting. The original bill draft would have also required proof of disability to qualify for mail-in voting, however, that provision was later removed. SB 7 would also increase access for partisan poll watchers, including allowing them to shoot video of the ballot counting process.
This move in Texas comes just days after a similar elections overhaul was signed into law in Georgia, already prompting lawsuits.
Texas Democrats argue it amounts to Jim Crow-era suppression--placing unnecessary hurdles between voters and the ballot box, especially people of color and those with disabilities. But GOP senators, backed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, say the bill is designed to prevent voter fraud and keep elections fair.
"This bill is about making it easy to vote and hard to cheat. We had a long debate, scores of amendments were offered, and at the end of the day Texas Senate passed a strong election integrity bill that we can be proud of," said Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola early Thursday morning.
"This is a voter suppression bill and we should not have that in Texas, not in 2021," Democratic Sen. Royce West of Dallas said Wednesday. "A reasonable person would look at that and say that its part of the national republican strategy in order to suppress voters in urban areas."
Democratic Sen. Sarah Eckhardt of Austin tweeted overnight: "SB7 is voter suppression", adding she was proud to join with her democratic colleagues to fight against the bill. Early this morning, GOP Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels tweeted: "After a long night of debate SB7 passes the Texas Senate - protecting the integrity of our elections."
In a statement overnight, the Texas ACLU vowed it would do everything it can to stop the bill’s passage.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued this statement of support Thursday saying:
"Maintaining the integrity of our elections is vital to preserving public trust so our democracy can flourish, and that’s why I have made election security a top priority again this legislative session. SB 7 will strengthen the public’s faith in our electoral process and ensure that every Texan knows that when they cast their ballot, their vote is secure. I congratulate Sen. Hughes and the Texas Senate for passing these comprehensive reforms."
The full House could vote on the bill as soon as Thursday.