Republican lawmakers in Texas are attempting to cement more bricks into the wall they hope will shield their hold on power from the state’s changing electorate.
After more than 20 years in firm control, the GOP is seeing its dominance of Texas politics slowly slip away, with some once reliable suburbs following big cities into the Democratic party’s fold.
This legislative session, Republicans are staging a sweeping legislative campaign to further tighten the state’s already restrictive voting rules and raise new barriers for some voters, clamping down in particular on local efforts to make voting easier.
If legislation they have introduced passes, future elections in Texas will look something like this: Voters with disabilities will be required to prove they can’t make it to the polls before they can get mail-in ballots. County election officials won’t be able to keep polling places open late to give voters like shift workers more time to cast their ballots. Partisan poll watchers will be allowed to record voters who receive help filling out their ballots at a polling place. Drive-thru voting would be outlawed. And local election officials may be forbidden from encouraging Texans to fill out applications to vote by mail, even if they meet the state’s strict eligibility rules.
Those provisions are in a Senate priority bill that was set to receive its first committee airing Monday, but Democrats delayed its consideration by invoking a rule that requires more public notice before the legislation is heard. Senate Bill 7 is part of a broader package of proposals to constrain local initiatives widening voter access in urban areas, made up largely by people of color, that favor Democrats.
The wave of new restrictions would crash up against an emerging Texas electorate that every election cycle includes more and more younger voters and voters of color. They risk compounding the hurdles marginalized people already face making themselves heard at the ballot box.
“I think Texans should be really frustrated with their politicians, because it is so obvious that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to put itself in a place where its people are safe with all the challenges we could be expecting to be facing in the modern era, and instead they’re figuring out how to stay in power,” said Myrna Pérez, director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center for Justice, which is analyzing and tracking proposed voting restrictions across the country.
“Their manipulation has got a shelf life, and I think that’s part of the reason why they’re so desperate to do it right now because they see the end. They see what’s coming down the road for them.”
The months since the presidential election have been roiled by unsuccessful Republican attempts to overturn its outcome by pushing disproven claims of widespread voter fraud, and legislative pushback in state Capitols across the country in light of those defeats. Key states like Georgia and Arizona, which voters of color helped flip into Democrats’ column last year, are at the center of growing Republican efforts to tighten voting rules or rollback access that could suppress those voters.
Republican maneuvering to change voting rules state by state comes as Democrats in Washington D.C., try to pass a national voting rights bill that would upend key elements of Texas election laws. The wide-ranging legislation, which has passed in the U.S. House but faces stiff GOP opposition in the Senate, would require online voter registration systems and the automatic registration of eligible people who interact with certain government agencies. It would open up mail in voting to any registered voter and ban partisan gerrymandering, among other measures.
Texas remains a red state under complete Republican control, even after seeing the highest turnout in decades in 2020. But last year’s election continued a trend of waning.