For a second time this year, the Texas House passed comprehensive election reform legislation—a top Republican priority Democrats spent months working to block.
On Friday, House members voted 80-41 to approve Senate Bill 1, the major election integrity measure passed by the Senate two weeks ago.
The amended bill now goes back to the Senate, which can either concur with the House changes or call for a conference committee to reconcile differences, something GOP lawmakers struggled with during the regular legislative session.
SB1 is the first bill passed by the House since the regular session ended in May.
More than 50 Democrat state representatives fled to D.C. in July to block a vote on election integrity reforms, staying absent without leave throughout the entire first special session and into the second. About half have since returned to the Texas House, establishing the two-thirds quorum needed to conduct business.
State Rep. Andrew Murr (R–Junction) opened Friday’s final consideration of the bill by recounting how his grandfather, former Gov. Coke Stevenson, lost a 1948 U.S. Senate primary election to Lyndon Johnson, in what is widely acknowledged as a “brazen” case of fraud.
Murr noted the two men eventually shook hands, and he called for similar civility as members discussed SB 1.
Mostly reading from prepared remarks, lawmakers on both sides stated their case one last time with little hope or intention of changing minds.
State Rep. Chris Turner (D–Dallas) and other members of the House Democrat Caucus repeated their claims that SB 1 is just a response to the 2020 election and voter fraud isn’t a problem worth addressing.
State Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D–Austin) said the bill is “predicated on the ‘Big Lie’ that Trump won,” while State Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D–Houston) added that voter fraud cases are “miniscule.”
Many also said they believe Republicans intentionally designed the bill to “suppress” voters who are more likely to vote for Democrats.
But State Rep. Armando Walle, a Democrat from Houston, said he doesn’t ascribe bad motives to the bill’s authors, adding “the impact of bill is what’s going to matter.”
Opponents of SB 1 will try to show in court that protected classes of voters—racial, color, or language minorities—are disproportionately impacted by its provisions.
Another Democrat, State Rep. Alex Dominguez (Brownsville), said he disagrees with some provisions of SB 1 but appreciated the opportunity to have “meaningful discussion and debate. … That’s what makes this body so different.”
Dominguez also agreed with assertions by Republican State Rep. J.M. Lozano (Kingsville) that illegal vote harvesting happens in Texas, but said he thought local authorities were equipped to handle it under current laws.
“This should be a bipartisan effort,” Lozano said, calling out the Democrats who were denying voter fraud and ignoring the Legislature’s long history of passing election integrity reforms. “They keep claiming it’s about the ‘Big Lie.'”
“I cited article after article about voter fraud, but none of them ever mentioned that,” he said, describing cases of political operatives exploiting elderly voters.
Lozano read from an article about a Dallas senior who said she felt “violated” when she learned her vote was stolen by a ballot harvester.
“Our job here in this chamber is to fight for every single Texan … to make sure everyone’s vote counts,” he added. “This is common sense.”
What’s in the Bill
Friday’s vote followed 12 hours of debate on the House floor Thursday.
Their starting point was a committee substitute advanced by House Republicans that replaced the contents of the Senate’s SB 1 with the language in House Bill 3, a similar election integrity measure by Murr.
Lawmakers from both parties offered amendments to the bill—more than 60 in total.
About a dozen amendments were adopted, most from Republicans working to add back provisions of the Senate bill and bring the two versions closer together in hopes of speeding up final enactment.
Murr pre-filed an amendment that satisfied voters’ requests to restore some specific Senate provisions, including a stronger penalty for election officials who unlawfully exclude poll watchers (a Class A misdemeanor, the same as the current penalty for officials who obstruct watchers inside the polls), and allowing voters use the future online ballot-tracking system to correct mail-ballot “defects” including voter ID numbers.
An amendment from State Rep. Mike Schofield (R–Katy) also restored several provisions from the Senate bill, including directives to print daily zero tapes and tally tapes when opening and closing polls.
State Rep. Stephanie Klick (R–Fort Worth) offered two amendments. One adds security protocols for electronic devices inside central counting stations; another directs the secretary of state’s office to create an online poll watcher training program that will be mandatory for service.
An amendment by Rep. Steve Allison (R–San Antonio) establishes six new election fraud offenses and adds “intentionally” to the definitions of perjury and illegal voting.
State Rep. Jacey Jetton (R–Sugar Land) offered an amendment addressing procedures for verifying voters’ citizenship and holding voter registrars accountable for performing required voter list maintenance (previously proposed in separate legislation) and adding video surveillance of voted ballots in vote-counting areas (included in the Senate’s version of SB 1).
An amendment by Democrat State Rep. John Bucy (Cedar Park), presented as a measure to protect disabled voters, set off red flags among some Republicans but was still adopted.
Bucy’s amendment allows “qualified individuals with a disability” to request “a reasonable accommodation or modification to any election standard, practice, or procedure.”
Schofield warned it could “open the door” for bad-faith actors who aren’t disabled to demand any action or exception to voting rules they wanted (for example, drive-thru voting), since the state doesn’t require any verification of a voter’s disability.
With all the amendments, the two bills are still different, and both differ from the major election reform bills proposed during the regular session, which the Republican-controlled Legislature failed to pass.
The amended version of SB 1 now goes back to the Senate.
The upper chamber can concur with the House version of SB 1, meaning they agree to all the changes made by the lower chamber; or they can request a conference committee of House and Senate members, who must reconcile the two versions into a final bill that requires approval by both chambers.
Lawmakers have less than two weeks to deliver comprehensive election integrity reform. The current 30-day special session ends on September 5.