Voting Debate Turns House Into a History Class

Dems slow SB 7's roll with more than 100 amendments


Outside a Travis County early voting site in October 2020 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

After heated debate over Senate Bill 7 dominated much of the Texas House's week, the "election integrity" measure finally passed by a 78-64 party-line vote last Friday. Although technically SB 7 has passed both chambers, the House version is basically a different bill – the former House Bill 6 – so a conference committee will need to reconcile the differences.

Democrats put forward more than 100 amendments to dial back some of the bill's most significant restrictions, including the extraordinary leeway it gives to partisan poll watchers, its limits on providing voter assistance, and its criminal penalties for voting violations. The tense floor debate featured top Dems such as Reps. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, Jessica Gon­zález, D-Dallas, and Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, grilling Elections Chair Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, author of HB 6.

One focus was on the bill's language, some borrowed from the Texas Constitution, rooted in Jim Crow voter suppression. "Are you aware that references to 'purity of the ballot box' has been a justification for groups they deem unfit to vote?" Anchía asked Cain. He said he was not, which led to a history lesson for him and other observers on the state's history of all-white primaries and at-large elections designed to disenfranchise voters of color.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said that he's willing to work with House leaders on "election integrity," telling WFAA in Dallas, "At the end of the day we will pass one of the strongest voter integrity bills in the country." Those deliberations will be under continued scrutiny by a highly mobilized Democratic activist base, for whom stopping SB 7/HB 6 – either now or in a later court challenge – has become the No. 1 priority of the session.

Last weekend's rally at the Capitol, the largest for progressives since the 87th began in January, featured a slew of big names, including Anchía, Beto O'Rourke, and Julián Castro (as well as his mother, activist Rosie Castro, and his son Cristian), warning that the bills pose the greatest threat to democracy in generations. As one of a few determined counterprotesters tried to shout over him that the January 6 insurrection was a lie, O'Rourke said, "This guy is here for a reason. He's here to remind us that this shit isn't easy."

One "integrity" crusader who testified in favor of both SB 7 and HB 6 in committee, former Austin City Council aspirant Laura Pressley, turns out to have played a big role in how America got here. Over the weekend, The Washington Post reported on a conservative cabal that sought to invalidate 2018 midterm gains by Democrats, which took aim at electronic voting machines using claims Pressley had honed during her years-long string of court cases challenging her 2014 loss (by 30 points) to Greg Casar. The group approached two casualties of the 2018 blue wave, representing overlapping districts in Dallas – U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (since returned to Congress in a Waco-based district) and state Sen. Don Huffines, who just announced his 2022 primary challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott. According to the Post, Pressley says she split with the group as its efforts became more partisan and profit-driven; its leader instead cites Pressley's "lack of technical experience and complete inability to understand electronic investigative work."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

87th Texas Legislature, Senate Bill 7, House Bill 6, Briscoe Cain, Texas House of Representatives, Texas Legislature, Rafael Anchía, Jessica González, Chris Turner, Dan Patrick, Beto O'Rourke, Julián Castro, Rosie Castro, Laura Pressley, Pete Sessions, Don Huffines, voting rights, voting bills, SB 7, HB 6

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