Rambler Newspapers

Serving Irving, Coppell and Grand Prairie

Texas Changes Voting Laws

Austin—Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into lawon Sept. 7 that increases voting restrictions statewide. The bill, SB1, is a modified version of SB7, which causedan uproar all summer. SB7 prompted the House Democrats to stage two separate walkouts of the Legislature in protest, including fleeing to Washington, D.C. in July.

The bill will change aspects of voting in all 254 counties in Texas. Some of the things SB1 entails are:

-bans on drive-thru voting

-changes to early voting hours

-bans on 24-hour voting

-greatly expanding the powers of poll watchers

-new rules and potential penalties for those assisting voters

-increased requirements for mail-in voting

-monthly checks of the voter roll to find any non-citizens

-making it a felony for public officials and election officials to send out unsolicited absentee ballots.

The law will take effect Dec. 3.

Remi Garza is the elections administrator of Cameron County and the president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.

“The changes in SB1 are impacting everyone in some form,” Garza said. “It’s a little more responsibility on the applicant than previously was required. I think it places additional burdens on the voter.

“Some of the standardization that was put in place, removed a lot of the flexibility [elections] administrators had in order to serve their communities.

“For instance, SB1 added an additional hour of voting. In some cases, that is good, and in other cases where it’s not necessary, it could be seen as an additional burden, not only on personnel, but budgetary constraints,” Garza said. “By bracketing the times voting is available, it limits what can be done in circumstances where it’s necessary to serve your population. Here, that might include hours that don’t fall within the prescribed times.

“We had flexibility in the code during [the peaks of the pandemic], and I think some of that flexibility has been removed.

“Each county has its own specific needs, whether you’re a small county or medium county or large county. The more you try to get small counties to act like big counties, have big counties act like small counties, the less you’re providing them to best serve.

“We want to make sure we do everything to facilitate the process and not make it more difficult for people. When you lose flexibility, because you have very constrictive language, it reduces your ability to administer the election that people need,” he said.

Every voter in Texas will see changes courtesy of SB1.

“If you’re over 65, or if you’re going to be out of the county, or if you have a disability, or [if you’re part of] other new categories they’ve added, your ballot by mail process has changed,” Garza said. “I think people are going to have to be extra diligent in making sure their voter registration records have up to date identification information.

“Some of the additional requirements they’ve included in the forms of assistance and the steps that individuals who are providing assistance have to meet could be discouraging. [It may discourage] offers to help neighbors or fellow citizens, or to make themselves available for people who ask for their help. That would be a detriment.People should have the ability to ask anybody they’d like to provide assistance.

“[Legislators in favor said] they were trying to make it easier for people to vote, harder for people to cheat. In some aspects, it’s going to make it more difficult for people to vote the way they prefer to. That didn’t seem to correspond with their intent.

“There’s a balance that you want to achieve, between making sure people can freely exercise their right to vote and maintaining the security of the election.

“I think there’s strength in our diversity of voting systems and voting practices and communities, in that anybody who would be attempting to influence [voting] would have a harder time, but as you standardize things, it gives them an opportunity to anticipate behaviors,” Garza said. “It’s similar across the state.”

Garza gave perspective on the role of elections administrators.

“We’re here to facilitate the voting process so the intent of the people can be expressed and heard,” Garza said. “We have to balance that against making it difficult for them to cast their ballots.

“Elections are intended to be fair, free, and open so there’s a certain level of transparency. The public can see what is going on and have confidence in the way they’re casting their ballots and the way they’re going to be counted.

“We do have to put in certain procedures and measures to protect that, to prevent unlawful participation. You never want to go to the extreme where we’re actually discouraging participation or making it more difficult for people to vote.

“With the next major elections either being in March, April, or May of next year, there’s plenty of time for adjustments that can be made by the courts or even by the legislature as they’re getting set to meet again on the 20th.

“I think it’s important people keep themselves informed,” Garza said. “If they can reach out to their local election officials, that’s best. Everybody [should have] a good understanding of what any new requirements are of them in order to participate in the election.”

At least four lawsuits have been filed to block SB1, including ones from LULAC, Voto Latino, Texas Alliance for Retired Americans, and Texas AFT.