Texas GOP tries to make it a felony to help people get absentee ballots

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'The myth of voter fraud is frequently used to target communities of color to delegitimize their vote,' said Common Cause Texas.

Republicans on the Texas House Elections Committee advanced House Bill 6, "Relating to election integrity and preservation of the purity of the ballot box through the prevention of fraud in the conduct of an election" on Thursday over the vocal objections of major companies, voting rights advocates, and Democratic lawmakers who say the measure needlessly makes it harder to vote.

H.B. 6 would make it a felony to send eligible voters absentee ballot applications if they do not request them. It also gives more rights to partisan poll watchers like the ones in Detroit who tried to push their way into vote tally rooms during the counting of ballots in 2020.

Voting rights advocates worry that if the bill becomes law, GOP poll watchers could try to intimidate voters in communities of color. Tweeted Common Cause Texas:

It is a downright dangerous idea to expand poll watcher powers while removing the ability of election workers to kick a disruptive poll watcher out - which is precisely what #HB6 does. The myth of voter fraud is frequently used to target communities of color to delegitimize their vote and silence the voice of a rising electorate that simply wants to claim their rightful place in our democracy. It has to stop.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro called the poll watcher provisions "vigilante voter suppression."

"Today the TX GOP advanced the egregious #HB6 out of committee. It won't just restrict voter access, it will criminalize voting with harsh penalties. Voters and business leaders must speak up while there is time to stop it from becoming law," tweeted former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams, who founded the voting rights group Fair Fight.

Major companies in the state also spoke out about H.B. 6 before it advanced through the committee, a sign corporate objections are falling on deaf ears.

Microsoft, which has 1,500 employees in Texas, said in a statement that the company is "concerned that H.B. 6 would prevent local election officials from proactively providing absentee ballot applications and ballot materials to all Texas voters."

Michael Dell, the CEO of the Austin-based corporation that bears his name, tweeted, "Free, fair, equitable access to voting is the foundation of American democracy. Those rights — especially for women, communities of color — have been hard-earned. Governments should ensure citizens have their voices heard. HB6 does the opposite, and we are opposed to it."

H.B. 6 one of several voter suppression bills making its way through the Texas Legislature.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed S.B. 7 in the wee hours of April 2. That bill would require the disabled to provide proof of their disability in order to vote by mail; limit early voting; and eliminate drive-thru voting, a method more than 100,000 people used in the 2020 election.

The American Civil Liberties Union called S.B. 7 a "blatant attempt at voter suppression" and said:

It aims to make voting more difficult and less convenient for voters in Texas under the guise of "election integrity." Besides limiting early voting times, severely impairing countywide polling, and banning drive-thru voting, it also makes it significantly more difficult for Texans with disabilities and those who need voting assistance to cast their ballot.

The Texas Legislature's efforts to pass voter suppression laws is part of a nationwide trend: Republican state lawmakers are using allegations of voter fraud repeated in the wake of Donald Trump's loss in the 2020 election as a pretext for restricting voting rights. They have introduced more than 360 bills in the current legislative session that would make it harder to vote.

Democrats in the U.S. Congress are seeking to pass H.R. 1, a pro-democracy government reform bill that would expand access to the ballot by requiring early voting periods, making no-excuse absentee voting universal, and limiting the use of voter ID laws. A Brennan Center for Justice analysis found that H.R. 1 would block almost every single voter suppression bill Republicans have introduced.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.