Like other Republican proposals, the measure would target Harris County’s initiatives from the 2020 general election, including a shift to proactively send out vote-by-mail applications.
A Texas House committee on Thursday advanced an elections bill that would make it a state jail felony for local election officials to distribute an application to vote by mail to a voter who didn’t request one.
House Bill 6 is part of a broader Republican effort this year to enact wide-ranging changes to elections in Texas that would ratchet up the state’s already restrictive election rules in the name of “election integrity” despite little to no evidence of widespread fraud. The legislation was approved by the House Elections Committee on a party line vote with only Republicans voting in favor of it.
Like other Republican proposals, the measure would target Harris County’s initiatives from the 2020 general election, including a shift to proactively send out vote-by-mail applications. Various counties sent unsolicited applications to voters who were 65 years and older, who automatically qualify to vote by mail in Texas. But Republicans’ ire fell on Harris County officials when they attempted to send applications to all 2.4 million registered voters in the county with specific instructions on how to determine if they were eligible. The Texas Supreme Court ultimately blocked that effort.
HB 6, by Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain, would also set up new rules for people assisting voters — like those with disabilities or those who speak languages other than English — in casting their ballots. Voters can select anyone to help them through the voting process as long as they’re not an employer or a union leader. But the bill would require those helping voters to disclose the reason they need help.
The bill now heads to the House Calendars Committee, which determines whether bills make it to the full Texas House for a vote.
The House’s consideration of the measure has been slowed down by Cain’s management of the committee. Last month, the Deer Park Republican who chairs the elections committee abruptly shut down a hearing on the bill after refusing to take questions on the legislation from state Rep. Nicole Collier, a Fort Worth Democrat and chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, who asked to participate in the hearing. In rushing to recess the committee, Cain failed to announce a time the committee would reconvene — a procedural error that meant the hearing could not continue. More than 100 members of the public who had traveled to the Capitol to testify on the bill were sent home.
The committee returned a week later and heard 17 hours of divided testimony on the bill. Several partisan poll watchers, who are appointed by candidates and political parties to observe voting at polling places, endorsed the bill because of the enhanced protections it creates for them, including criminal liability for election workers for their treatment of watchers.
Photo: The bill is heading to the House Calendars Committee, which determines whether bills make it to the full Texas House for a vote. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune