“There’s no doubt this is going to be a voter suppression session,” said Sarah Labowitz, the policy and advocacy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.
The defiant tone continued on the sun-baked steps of the Capitol, where roughly 20 of the 67 Democrats in the Texas House joined voting rights advocates at a rally organized by Black Voters Matter, the Texas Right to Vote Coalition, the Texas for All Coalition and allied groups.
After former President Donald J. Trump returned in recent months to making false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states have marched ahead to pass laws making it harder to vote and change how elections are run, frustrating Democrats and even some election officials in their own party.
- A Key Topic: The rules and procedures of elections have become central issues in American politics. As of May 14, lawmakers had passed 22 new laws in 14 states to make the process of voting more difficult, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute.
- The Basic Measures: The restrictions vary by state but can include limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting absentee ballots, and doing away with local laws that allow automatic registration for absentee voting.
- More Extreme Measures: Some measures go beyond altering how one votes, including tweaking Electoral College and judicial election rules, clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives, and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections.
- Pushback: This Republican effort has led Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A sweeping voting rights bill passed the House in March, but faces difficult obstacles in the Senate, including from Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. Republicans have remained united against the proposal and even if the bill became law, it would most likely face steep legal challenges.
- Florida: Measures here include limiting the use of drop boxes, adding more identification requirements for absentee ballots, requiring voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, limiting who could collect and drop off ballots, and further empowering partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
- Texas: Texas Democrats successfully blocked the state’s expansive voting bill, known as S.B. 7, in a late-night walkout and are starting a major statewide registration program focused on racially diverse communities. But Republicans in the state have pledged to return in a special session and pass a similar voting bill. S.B. 7 included new restrictions on absentee voting; granted broad new autonomy and authority to partisan poll watchers; escalated punishments for mistakes or offenses by election officials; and banned both drive-through voting and 24-hour voting.
- Other States: Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that would limit the distribution of mail ballots. The bill, which includes removing voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List if they do not cast a ballot at least once every two years, may be only the first in a series of voting restrictions to be enacted there. Georgia Republicans in March enacted far-reaching new voting laws that limit ballot drop-boxes and make the distribution of water within certain boundaries of a polling station a misdemeanor. And Iowa has imposed new limits, including reducing the period for early voting and in-person voting hours on Election Day.
LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter co-founder kicked off the rally by describing the state as a central battlefield in the national struggle for voting rights. “Texas, we’re coming y’all,” she declared.
Republicans and their allies defended the bills, known as S.B. 1 in the State Senate and H.B. 3 in the State House, saying that they were necessary to shore up election security and falsely arguing that they did not include any new restrictions.
“In Texas elections, we want to make sure it is easy to vote and hard to cheat,” State Senator Bryan Hughes, a Republican from East Texas who wrote the Senate version, said in a statement on Thursday. “Senate Bill 1 does just that by making sure Texans can cast their votes with confidence that they’ll be counted and the results will be reported accurately.”
Mr. Hughes added that “Texans do not back down from a fight or flee from responsibility.”
Other Republican-aligned groups attacked the Democratic criticisms.
“There is going to be a lot of hyperbole, a lot of rhetoric, the same type of stuff that we heard before, that the provisions of this piece of legislation are restrictive, are trying to make it harder to vote in Texas,” said Jason Snead, the director of the Honest Elections Project, a conservative voting group. “If you look at the actual bill text, you get a very different picture of what you’re seeing, and that the policies are far more mundane and mainstream.”