Democrat lawmakers in Texas walked out in the state House of Representatives on Sunday night to block passage of a controversial bill that will make it harder for people to cast their votes in state elections.
So, what is this Bill?
The legislation called SB 7 was passed in the House along party lines earlier this month. The Texas Tribune notes that among the legislation’s most significant measures include limiting how local officials can expand voting options, regulating the distribution of polling places in urban areas, requiring paper trails for voting, setting new rules for voting by mail, regulating donations to counties, setting new rules for removing people from the voter rolls, enhancing poll watcher freedom and requiring the recording of vote counting.
The text of the bill states that it is an act “…relating to elections, including election integrity and security; creating criminal offenses; providing civil penalties.”
What is this legislation about?
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, this year, various states have already enacted more than 20 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote. The center also notes that more than one-third of these bills are in three states including Texas and Michigan that have nine bills each and Wisconsin that has seven bills that are trying to restrict voting.
Further, while at least 32 moving bills in 15 states would restrict the ability to vote by mail, two bills in Wisconsin would eliminate the ability of voters to receive an absentee ballot for each election. Other such bills in different states will make voting restricted by imposing new and stricter voter ID requirements, expanding voter purge practices and increasing barriers to voter registration.
Even before the US presidential elections last year, the US Postal Service (USPS), which is one of the most important and trusted public institutions in the country was at the centre of a political row with Democrats on one side insisting that more Americans be given access to mail-in voting and Republicans, on the other hand, opposing this demand alleging that there are greater chances of fraud with mail-in voting. In the run up to the elections, former president Donald Trump repeatedly alleged that mail-in voting will lead to fraud in the election process.
Amid the pandemic, various Democrat controlled states including Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio allowed absentee voting for all. On the other hand, there was resistance from some Republican-controlled states including Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi about allowing mail-in ballots.
What have critics said?
Critics of the bill see the move as an attempt by Republicans to make it harder for voters, especially minorities to cast their vote. In a statement, US president Joe Biden called the Texas legislation “un-American” and said that “It’s part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year—and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans.”
“And I continue to call on all Americans, of every party and persuasion, to stand up for our democracy and protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections,” he added. According to The New York Times, Democratic lawyers have promised that they will file a lawsuit once the bill is passed and signed into law by the governor.