Election bills among priority of 87th Texas Legislative session

Editor's Note: This story was prepared for print on May 7, and bills may have advanced in status since that time.

Local lawmakers Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, have said among their priorities in the 87th Texas Legislature are a series of bills aimed at election integrity.

Toth authored, coauthored or sponsored 16 bills pertaining to elections for the Texas House of Representatives in this session, which ends May 31

“We want to make sure that every eligible person can vote,” Toth said. “We do not want to see anything stand in the way of an eligible person to vote, but we want to make it hard for people to cheat.”

Bills target voting security

Among the bills Toth worked on for the legislative session making progress as of early May is House Bill 1725, which would ban in-person delivery of mail ballots. As of May 7, the bill had been sent to legislative calendars on April 23, where it is scheduled to be considered by the Legislature.

Toth said he wants to emphasize the difference between curbside and drive-thru voting across the state.

“Curbside voting is legal,” Toth said. “You cannot do drive-thru voting though. The difference between the two is that with drive-thru, you can hand a voter tablet to a bus full of people ... that can be influenced on how they are going to vote. It completely takes away the secrecy and privacy of voting.”

Toth added he believes a curbside vote is different because it is more limited in scope.

“We just want to make sure it is done with integrity and there is no cheating,” Toth said.

Among the bills authored by Creighton is Senate Bill 7, which proposes new election regulations including the voter registration process, voting by mail and election security relating to polling place location and facilities, voting hours and ballot auditing. According to the bill, it would make unlawful voting or registration a criminal offense.

Harris County saw record voter turnout during the November election amid some elections operations that would run afoul of SB 7’s new requirements. County Judge Lina Hidalgo said March 15 she opposed the bill. Gov. Greg Abbott has expressed support for SB 7 and other election reform measures.

SB 7 was considered in public hearing on April 29, then amended and scheduled for a vote on May 7, after press time. Creighton could not be reached for comment before press time May 7.

Several of Creighton’s bills pertaining to voting and elections—Senate Bills 1110 through 1116—were jointly authored with Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and several other Republican senators.

SB 1111, for example, would require voters to produce evidence of their residence at the address where they are registered to vote if requested by the voter registrar.

“The integrity of the voter roll is paramount to the entire electoral process, and we must restore confidence in the voter roll for future elections for all Texans,” Bettencourt said in a March 8 statement.

Among other Senate bills, SB 1114 would require voters to present proof of citizenship if their citizenship status was previously questioned through the jury selection process or in vehicle registration records. The bill was considered in a public hearing May 4.

Voter perspective

Steve Leakey, president of the nonprofit Voter Awareness Council in Montgomery County, which aims to educate Montgomery County voters and increase turnout, said he believes keeping elections fair is essential.

“They need to be simple and straightforward for registered voters to vote, and we need to make sure whatever efforts people might make to vote improperly or illegally is blocked,” Leakey said. “Without question, extended early voting days and proper use of mail-in ballots where people have legitimate needs to do that ... is very, very important.”

Leakey said from his perspective in Montgomery County, the current system works very well, and tampering with it and making it more complicated does not make sense, just as it does not make sense to make things easier for the potential of fraudulent votes.

“I know there are a lot of complexities, particularly in Harris County, that are being considered. ... In general there is an effort for election reform across the country that is misrepresented across the press,” Leakey said. “Some people believe some of these bills in the Texas Legislature are going to make it harder to vote, but I am not aware of any functions or features that would confirm that concern.”

Meanwhile, organizations such as MOVE Texas, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization which operates in cities including Houston, released a statement April 29 condemning SB 7.

“[SB 7] will disproportionately restrict the safety, security and accessibility of all eligible voters but especially that of marginalized communities and deny young, disabled, Black and brown voters their voice in the rising Texas electorate,” Communications Director Charlie Bonner said in a statement.

Ben Thompson contributed to this report.
By Andrew Christman
Andrew joined Community Impact Newspaper in early 2019 after moving from Indiana. He is a 2015 graduate from Indiana State University, where he received degrees in English and journalism. He has written for a number of small town publications throughout his career as a reporter.


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