Voting rights advocacy groups rally across Texas as SB7 advances to Texas Senate

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Several advocacy groups opposed to Senate Bill 7, a bill that would change how Texans vote, hosted rallies in Houston and in Austin on Saturday.

Texas has become the latest state to advance sweeping new limits on voting, despite no evidence of election fraud from the last presidential election.

SEE RELATED STORY: Voting reform bill nears passage in the Texas Legislature
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ABC13's Tom Abrahams joined Houston NAACP President Bishop James Dixon and Amy Holsworth with the Harris County Republican Party to discuss in-depth the impact SB7 will have on voters across Texas



From Florida to Georgia, Iowa and now Texas, Republican lawmakers have used unsubstantiated claims by former Pres. Donald Trump and his allies to justify new voting restrictions. They argue the new limits, which largely target mail voting, are needed to restore confidence and improve security to the election system.

Senate Bill 7 was passed by the Texas house on Friday, following hours of debate and some provisions that were added to the bill.

Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain, the author of the voting bill, reportedly said some of the changes were in response to recommendations made by disability rights groups and the NAACP.

"The overarching goal of this bill is to instill the trust in the electoral system, and that's why we're ensuring that watchers are doing what they are appointed to do," Cain said.

However, the language of the bill has overall remained the same, which means if the bill does become Texas law, it would put restrictions on early voting rules, limit extended voting hours, prohibit drive-thru voting and poll watchers will be given more access inside polling locations, including during voting hours.

"They're targeting all Texans because they are making it harder to vote," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said on Friday. "But, they are targeting minorities in having polling locations being moved away from minority area. They are targeting urban areas when you are leading to more lines at polling locations. They are targeting Harris County, specifically, when they are trying to get rid of drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting."

SEE RELATED: How Texas elections would change and become more restrictive under bill Republicans are pushing

Saturday morning, members with ACLU Texas along with former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, civil rights advocate Rosie Castro and voting rights organizations MOVE Texas and the Texas Freedom Network joined advocacy groups in Austin rallying against the voting bill.

Members of ACLU Texas also held a rally in downtown Houston at Emancipation Park Saturday morning.

Hours later, members with Houston Women March On protested against the bill at Eleanor Tinsley park, with the goal of educating and spreading awareness.

"There are many activist groups that are trying to send this message everywhere. We need to stand up and fight for what is right for our democracy. We have achieved a lot of things during different generations," said Araceli Camacho, a participant. "We don't want to go backwards."

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said if the bill becomes law then people will see the impact and changes at polling locations the next time they go to cast their ballot.

"You're probably going to see longer lines," Rottinghaus said. "The goal I think is, if you've got longer lines, just stay in line. Make sure you plan ahead. Make sure you vote early, if you can. They are going to change the availability of voting, especially in big urban counties so it's important to plan ahead."

Mayor Sylvester Turner told ABC13 on Friday, the battle is far from over.

"We've seen this play before," Turner said. "Jim Crow before. Jim Crow 2.0 now, so it's not like this is a new play. It's just a different scene. I suspect there will be a number of legal challenges to these bills as they materialize and it looks like that they will. I'm sure there will be even greater efforts by people in Harris County, throughout the state of Texas, and in other states to register more people to vote. To encourage people to exercise their right to vote. To work even harder to not be intimidated in their right to vote."

What's next in the process?



According to ABC News, now that Senate Bill 7 was approved by the Texas House, it will go to a conference committee for a vote. This process usually happens behind closed doors and away from public view. The committee is made up of members from both the Texas House and the Texas Senate.

The committee will work to consolidate the language of House Bill 6 and the original Senate Bill 7 into the final version of Senate Bill 7.

The conference committee is required to submit a report of any changes to the bill, and if it is approved by both houses, the bill will then be signed by the presiding officers and sent to the governor's office.

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