Voting reform bill nears passage in the Texas Legislature

AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- Change to voting procedures that made it easier to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic could be made illegal soon, thanks to a pair of companion bills in the Texas House and Senate.

House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7 are being considered by lawmakers, which include provisions such as outlawing unsolicited voter registration applications by mail.

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.

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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.

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Other provisions include a change to the way poll watchers operate, giving them more access to the process. Some opponents have said they fear that could lead to voter intimidation.

This story includes reporting from our ABC13 partners at The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans - and engages with them - about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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