Texas is considering legislation that would limit voter access and disenfranchise millions

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The Texas State Legislature is considering seven bills that voting rights advocates fear could disenfranchise voters if enacted by taking power away from local officials and putting it in the hands of state-appointed representatives.

The legislation specifically targets Harris County, where the city of Houston is located. The area has historically been considered a blue jurisdiction. According to the Texas Secretary of State, the county is home to over 2.5 million registered voters.

One bill in particular, Senate Bill 1750, would abolish the elections administrator position in Harris County and give that person’s responsibilities to the county clerk and county tax assessor-collector, positions currently held by two Democrats.

Based on the legislation, it’s unclear how that transfer of power would work or if the office would obtain additional staffing. If enacted, the county tax assessor-collector would become the voter registrar, a position tasked with helping eligible people register to vote.

Other bills seek to grant the secretary of state the ability to authorize the suspension or replacement of an election administrator, enable them to appoint election marshals to oversee the implementation of the state election code and address violations and make illegal voting a felony.

Only two out of the seven bills have either passed the House, Senate or both. Three are in committee and another was discussed in a hearing this week.

Advocates worry that the bills have a real chance of becoming law and could impact how future elections are controlled. The new guidelines would not allow for appeal processes or force the secretary of state to provide evidence as the basis of their decisions.

The legislative efforts appear to be a doubling-down by Republicans to finish what was started in 2020, when conservative officials sought to toss out 127,000 ballots in Harris County.

Ever since former President Donald Trump first questioned the results of that year’s presidential election, some conservatives have started to challenge election results by bringing lawsuits, policing voters and introducing laws that would limit voter access.

The concern with the Texas bills, Rose Clouston, a voting rights advocate, said is that people will stop showing up to the ballot box if they think that they’re votes won’t count in an election.

“If I’m a voter in Harris County, and I know that the secretary of state can just throw out the election results that they don’t like, that certainly disincentivizes me from voting,” she said.

It “sends the message loud and clear to voters across the state that your state government does not value your voice and will not respect your vote.”

Meanwhile, the state legislature is simultaneously considering bills that could expand voter access. However, Clouston thinks that they don’t necessarily go far enough in fighting voter suppression.

House Bill 3159 would allow people with disabilities to cast accessible absentee ballots through an electronic software and House Bill 1208 would let children under 14 help their parents submit their votes.

Still, Clouston says that online voter registration, same day voter registration and automatic voter registration would do more in enabling Texans to be civically engaged.

“Those are the things that really get more citizens to participate in our election system,” she said. And “none of them were in this legislative session.”

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