How Texas Election Integrity Law May Tackle Potential Fraud & Why It Unnerves Democrats
20:14 GMT 08.09.2021 (Updated: 13:23 GMT 06.08.2022)
Democrats and others are up in arms over a new Texas voting bill signed into law just days after the state's controversial abortion ban came into effect. Texas is emerging as a key battleground for national politics ahead of the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential elections, according to some American academics.
Gov. Greg Abbott on 7 September signed into law Senate Bill 1, a new voting legislation aimed at boosting state election integrity, according to the Texas GOP. The law purportedly makes it easier to cast a ballot, and makes it is harder for people to cheat at the ballot box, according to what the governor told reporters on Tuesday.
The state's Democratic Party points out that the law creates new limitations for voters and curbs the voting rights of people of colour. In July, at least 51 of the 67 Democratic representatives fled the state making it impossible for lower chamber members to conduct business under House rules. The Democrat walkout lasted for 38 days, prompting House Speaker Dade Phelan to sign 52 civil arrest warrants for the missing lawmakers. The historic quorum break ended on 19 August, when at least three new Democrats returned to the floor thus allowing the GOP to pass the voting bill. According
to CNN, the surprising turn of events led to accusations of betrayal among Texas Dems.
Seven Major Changes to Texas Election Code
"The bill is a Republican challenge to the voting changes spawned by the pandemic emergency," says Dr. Timothy Kneeland, chair of history and political science at Nazareth College in Rochester. "During the pandemic, some states where Democrats lead the state legislators or appointed judges with a loose interpretation of state constitutions, altered election rules to make it easier for people to cast ballots."
This newly-enacted bill reflects concerns by Republicans that Democrat-backed changes in election laws allowed people to unlawfully cast ballots
, according to the academic.
The new Texas voting law includes seven prominent changes: first, it prevents 24-hour voting and limits the window in which counties can offer voting to 6 am to 10 pm EST; second, it bans so-called "drive-thru" voting, except for those unable to physically enter a polling place; third, it prevents election authorities from sending unsolicited vote-by-mail applications to registered voters; fourth, it implements vote-by-mail ID mandates; fifth, it makes "ballot harvesting," or gathering votes cast by others, a third-degree felony; sixth, it provides poll watchers with greater freedom of movement within the polling place; seventh, it requires the Texas secretary of state's office to check voter rolls monthly.
The academic stated that the GOP specifically targeted mail-in voting
since they thought that "if there ever was widespread fraud in US elections, it would likely occur via mail because a mail-in ballot does not have the secrecy and privacy afforded by in person voting." For example, someone could be sent a mail-in ballot and then coerced or bribed to fill it out for a specific person or party, according to him.
At the same time, the increase in the penalties for ballot harvesting and the greater security for mail ballot applications and returned ballots could also make it harder to commit fraud, according to Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
"Texas does not have many cases of actual fraud, but when it does occur, it is most commonly in the distribution, completion, and return of mail ballots," Jones notes.
In January 2021, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced
the arrest of Rachel Rodriguez for election fraud, illegal voting, unlawfully assisting people voting by mail, and unlawfully possessing an official ballot.
"On the other hand, [the law] also expands hours for early voting and allows voters who make minor errors on their mail-in ballots to correct them - so in this way it expands access to voting," Kneeland suggested. Texas provides 12 days of early voting as well as extra hours during early voting days. While announcing the measure on Tuesday, Gov. Abbott noted that US President Joe Biden's home state of Delaware "provides zero days and zero hours of early voting."
Texas: Key Battleground for National Politics
Meanwhile, the Democrats have announced plans to sue the state to block the new voting reform. According to The Hill, prominent Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias, who is acting on behalf of two Hispanic advocacy groups, a retiree organisation and the state’s teachers union, said that the lawsuit would challenge the law under the First and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution, and under two sections of the Voting Rights Act.
"Democrats, whose own political party were agents of voter suppression in the South for decades, now believe that these new rules pose an imposition on voters who may struggle to make it to an in-person polling site, especially if there are an insufficient number of polling places," says Kneeland.
A 2014 Government Accounting Office study suggested voter ID laws might reduce voting as much as 2-3 percent. Typically, turnout among minority voters is lower than that of middle-class white voters. Thus, any laws that hinder access to the ballot would potentially impinge on black and Hispanic voters more than white voters, according to the academic. Still, "since so many of the expansive voting laws were a result of the pandemic we may not have sufficient data to know if the new laws will affect turnout," Kneeland notes.
Democrats are struggling to flip Texas and counting on the state's growing Hispanic community, which is traditionally leans to the left. According to Kneeland, Dems believe that the new law specifically targets their prospects of winning the state
"Texas is also a key battleground for national politics, with (beginning in 2023) 38 seats in the US House, second only to California, and 40 seats in the Electoral College, second only to California," highlights Jones. "Both Democrats and Republicans fully realize that if Democrats are able to turn Texas blue, the Republican Party will cease to exist as a viable national political party for at least the short term."