Proposed Texas bills would undermine voting rights for millions

In advance of the 2024 elections, far-right lawmakers are pulling out all the stops by filing a slew of bills aimed at gutting voting rights in Texas. These bills, if passed, would make it easier for defeated candidates to challenge election results, make administering elections more difficult in large cities, and create harsher punishments for people who vote “illegally.”

The most alarming of these bills, SB 2, would increase the charge of illegal voting from a Class A Misdemeanor to a second-degree felony, placing it on equal footing with manslaughter, aggravated assault and robbery. Many other bills take aim at counties with over 1 million people, where half of the population of Texas lives, undermining cities’ abilities to control their own election processes. Such bills, and similar efforts by the right, should be understood as attempts by Texas lawmakers to ensure that those who do not support their widely unpopular policies are removed from the political process entirely.

HB 2152, authored by Texas House Rep. Charles Cunningham from Humble, would extend the amount of time a defeated candidate has to challenge election results. This bill encourages the strategy of Trump-aligned candidates who claimed in 2020 that the elections were “rigged” due to widespread voter fraud, despite a lack of evidence.

Two bills introduced by State Senator Paul Bettencourt, SB 1039 and SB 823, are seemingly designed to work together and are aimed squarely at Texas’ most populous city: Houston.

SB 1039 would allow a wide range of candidates, political party officials, and judges to request that the Texas Secretary of State audit a county due to perceived election irregularities. If the audit finds such “irregularities,” the bill authorizes the Secretary to appoint a conservator to oversee elections in the precinct where the violations occurred.

SB 823 would allow the Texas Secretary of State to fire or suspend a county election administrator for a number of causes ranging from unfair allocation of election materials to delays in reporting election results.

These bills appear to be a direct response to the 2022 Harris County general election, which saw gains for more progressive candidates. After the election, the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit against Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum. The causes for suspension listed in SB 823 align neatly with allegations that the Republican Party has levied against Tatum, leading local activists to conclude that the bill is tailor-made for Texas’ most populous city and county.

SB 1750, yet another filed by Bettencourt, seeks direct state intervention in all major cities. This bill would force all counties with populations over 1 million to eliminate the office of Elections Administrator entirely. If SB 1750 becomes law it will oust elections administrators for Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin, placing the responsibilities of election administration with the County Clerk and Tax Assessor-Collector. Over 14 million Texans — half the population of the state — would live in counties with no elections administrator.

It is already hard enough to vote in urban areas of Texas. In Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, civil rights activists had to take the county Election Administrator to court to force the county to open enough polling places to meet the minimum requirements of the state’s election code. If Texas Republicans get their way, there will be no Elections Administrator to even sue.

With Texas determined to undermine its own election infrastructure, it is even more clear that a new struggle to expand civil rights and democracy is needed. But there is reason for hope, as the seeds for popular struggle are being sown. To point to one example, mass mobilizations have shut down fascist attacks on drag shows across the state, showing the unpopularity of the far right and the willingness of the people to defend oppressed groups. A radical expansion of democracy cannot begin and end at the ballot box, but needs to be won through the popular struggle that is just now beginning to take shape!

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