HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — Following a contentious election year, Texas lawmakers have begun hearing legislation regarding voting laws in the state.
Election integrity is the goal in the Republican-backed legislation package aiming at reforming voting laws in Texas. Two of the bills receiving the most push back by activists are Senate Bill 7 (SB 7) and its companion House Bill 6 (HB 6).
Governor Abbott expressed his support for amending existing voter law two weeks ago during a visit to Houston because he feels the bills will curb voter fraud and increase the integrity of elections.
Activists feel these bills are moving towards voter suppression of people of color, the elderly, and the disabled, as they have been the utilizers of services targeted by the bills in the past.
In the bills, outlawing most drive-thru voting, fixing early voting poll operation times, and requiring more documentation for mail-in voter registration are amongst the changes that activists feel are the most problematic.
Actions taken during last year’s election as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic were the catalysts for these bills.
While drive-thru voting was always an option for Texas during early voting and election day, the service became a popular means of voting last year due to the pandemic.
Cameron County Elections Administrator Remi Garza says promoting the curbside voting during the pandemic was an expansion of a service they already did to facilitate the voting process.
He says legislation such as this could have unintended consequences in helping voters during unanticipated circumstances, as they did during the pandemic.
“They become more restrictive, it reduces the options that we have to serve the voters, and I think that’s one of the concerns that we have,” said Garza.
Meeting the needs of the voters in their respective counties requires flexibility. Garza says what works in one county with a small population may not work for a larger county, so having the flexibility to accommodate the needs is vital for voter turnout.
Small counties where they have less than five to 3,000 voters, they don’t need to have an extended period of time, they can use shorter hours and they can choose locations where the population centers are versus having to have the exact number of polling locations in every community, opening them up for the exact hours through the exact days. It’s very constraining in people using resources in ways that are not as effective.
Local activists have made their way to these legislative sessions to voice their opposition to the bills.
Last week, five Texas Rising organizers from RGV made their way to Austin to testify against SB 7, among them, RGV Campus Organizer for Texas Rising, Denisce Palacios.
“It is a shame that our legislators would propose and vote for SB 7 & HB 6, which seeks to undermine our power as voters,” said Palacios. “SB 7 & HB 6 criminalize Texans for exercising their right to vote and marginalizes our older voters, working-class people, and community members with disabilities by specifically banning drive-thru voting and large voting centers that facilitate the voting process.”
Palacios will be in Austin tomorrow to testify once again, this time against HB 6.