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After All-Night Session, Texas House Approves GOP-Backed Voting Restrictions Bill

Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain (center) stands with co-sponsors as he speaks in favor of the election bill Thursday in the House chamber at the Texas Capitol in Austin.
Eric Gay
Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain (center) stands with co-sponsors as he speaks in favor of the election bill Thursday in the House chamber at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

Updated May 7, 2021 at 5:30 PM ET

Texas legislators approved new, more restrictive state election rules after a session that lasted from Thursday night into the early hours of Friday. The GOP-backed state Senate bill passed the House at 3 a.m. (4 a.m. ET) after hours of debate over amendments proposed by Democrats.

The House version of the legislation, which differs significantly from what passed the state Senate, will now go to a conference committee to resolve the differences.

The measure would make it a felony to provide voters with an application to vote by mail if they hadn't requested one, or to use any public funds to facilitate the third-party distribution of mail-in voting applications.

The ability for polling place "watchers" to be present throughout the day of the election is also expanded under the bill. It sets a high bar for when such observers can be taken out of a polling place. The bill states they can be removed "only if the watcher engages in activity that would constitute an offense related to the conduct of the election."

But the version the House passed early Friday also stripped out some of the more contentious provisions seen in earlier iterations, such as a ban on drive-thru voting and restrictions on early voting schedules.

The legislation was criticized by Democrats, progressive groups and voting rights advocates as a "voter suppression bill." Republicans such as state Rep. Jeff Leach view it as "sensible election integrity legislation that ensures and protects full access to the ballot box." The bill, he tweeted shortly after 4:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m. ET), cracks down on "illegal activity" undermining elections, echoing the false claims that elections in November were not secure.

The proposal is one of a long list of state election measures working their way through Republican-led state legislatures following former President Donald Trump's false claims of voting fraud in the November presidential election. On Thursday, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a similar election bill.

Democrats say that efforts to restrict mail-in and early voting further is a direct response to actions that led to high turnout during the 2020 elections, helping them succeed at the ballot box.

Last month, major corporations with offices in Texas spoke out against these legislative proposals. Corporate heavy hitters American Airlines, which is based in Fort Worth, and Dell Technologies, headquartered in Round Rock, criticized the effort, calling for equitable access to voting.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.
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