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Texas Republican lawmakers advanced an elections bill early Friday following hours of debate.
The House voted 81-64 to approve a watered-down version of the bill after Democrats spent hours questioning its author, state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park.
Republicans say the legislation includes new measures that would lead to better election security, while Democrats argue it will suppress voter access, especially for minority communities.
Lawmakers were set to vote on the bill Thursday after Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis signed that state’s election bill into law.
The Texas House debated the measure looking to send it to the Senate, according to reports.
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Gerald Welty sits the House Chamber at the Texas Capitol as he waits to hear debate on voter legislation in Austin, Texas, Thursday, May 6, 2021. (Associated Press)
Cain said the legislation would help to protect voters and prevent future election crimes. He said it wasn’t in response to the 2020 elections, which he deemed were fair.
“The purpose of this is to make it even more safe and secure,” Cain said, according to FOX 4 of Dallas/Fort Worth. “The Constitution commands the legislature to pass legislation to attack fraud and to preserve the purity of the ballot box, and I’ve seen a lot of polling suggesting the trust in our elections process is down.”
Democrats, however, raised questions about voter suppression and how the bill might have unequal negative effects on voters of color.
“Criminalizing things that could be a simple mistake could be a deterrent to finding poll workers,” said Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, a Dallas Democrat and House election committee vice-chair, according to The Wall Street Journal. “I think it’s a terrible piece of legislation.”
“So if it’s not broken, what are we trying to fix?” Gonzalez added. “I mean that old saying, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Right?”
Cain pushed back, saying he doesn’t believe the “bill suppresses any votes,” according to the Dallas Morning News.
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Earlier Thursday, Democrats vowed to file more than 100 amendments to fight and limit the impact of the legislation.
“My Democratic colleagues and I have more than 100 amendments,” Rep. James Talarico tweeted Thursday afternoon before the battle on the floor kicked off. “We’re prepared to fight this all night. Good trouble. Necessary trouble.”
The agreement was reached between Republicans and Democrats leaving the bill with 20 amendments that significantly watered down some of what advocates called the most problematic aspects of the bill.
The amendments lowered initially proposed enhanced criminal penalties, allowed poll watchers to be removed if they breach the peace, and clarified that election judges and volunteers wouldn’t be held liable for honest mistakes. Additionally, they instructed the state to send voter registration applications to high schools and instructed the state to develop an online format for tracking early ballots.
Democrats showed greater opposition to the Senate version of the bill, according to reports. Last week, Republicans on a House committee substituted in a House version of the bill, taking out the most controversial Senate provisions, the Wall Street Journal reported.
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill into law.
The Associated Press contributed to this report