Texas Republicans’ top-tier election integrity bills are scheduled for public hearings in legislative committees this week, giving citizens their first chance to formally weigh in on the high-priority measures.
Thursday morning, the House Elections Committee will hear public testimony on House Bill 6. The comprehensive election reform bill—dubbed the “Election Integrity Protection Act of 2021″—was authored by the committee’s chairman, State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park), and now has 39 co-authors.
Election integrity is a Texas GOP legislative priority and the only one also declared an emergency item by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who publicly endorsed “robust” election reforms including Cain’s.
A significant change called for by grassroots activists removes controversial language that would have allowed officials to alter voting rules if they first got permission from the Texas secretary of state’s office.
The new language says public officials “may not alter, waive, or suspend an election standard, practice, or procedure mandated by law or rule unless the alteration, waiver, or suspension is expressly authorized by this code.”
Cain’s bill also cracks down on paid mail-ballot harvesting operations. It expands the state’s organized election fraud laws to prohibit accepting or paying compensation for vote harvesting services and enhances criminal penalties imposed on vote traffickers.
HB 6 also includes provisions that would:
- Protect voters from intimidation by people pushing unsolicited assistance, a practice known as “voter ambush” (mirroring protections in HB 611);
- Clarify the right of poll watchers to be “near enough to see and hear” election officials’ activities (language also found in HB 1724);
- Prohibit public officials from distributing unsolicited mail-ballot applications (also included in HB 25);
- Specify who can be inside a polling place or ballot-processing location (similar to HB 1128);
- Require expedited court action in election fraud cases;
- Strengthen penalties for several election-related crimes, including making election fraud offenses a second-degree felony (also a provision of HB 574).
Tanya Robertson, who chairs the Texas GOP’s Legislative Priorities Subcommittee on Election Integrity, told Texas Scorecard the group’s consensus after reviewing the revised bill is that the HB 6 substitute “100 percent” meets, and exceeds, the enhanced-penalty portion of their priority.
She plans to present her subcommittee’s recommendations on the bill to the full Legislative Priorities membership later this week.
Video of Thursday’s House Elections Committee hearing will be broadcast live starting at 8 a.m.
Last week, the committee heard public testimony on nearly a dozen measures.
On the Senate side, State Affairs Committee Chairman State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Mineola) rescheduled public hearings on top-priority election reform bills for Friday morning, after Democrats used a procedural move to delay hearings set for Monday. Friday’s agenda includes Hughes’ omnibus Senate Bill 7 and four of the “Integrity Seven” bills by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston).
Dozens of bills to improve election security and voter confidence have been introduced in the Republican-controlled House and Senate. Texans can contact state officials about election integrity and other issues.
Details about bills, along with resources to help citizens participate in the legislative process, are available at Texas Legislature Online.