Texas GOP launches avalanche of bills to curtail voting

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Texas Republicans are rolling out a slew of restrictive election bills, taking particular aim at early voting after Democrats enthusiastically embraced the practice last year.

More than two dozen GOP-sponsored elections bills are under consideration in the Legislature as lawmakers seek to tighten ID requirements and voter rolls, limit early voting and up the penalties for errors. The broad interest — and a directive last month from the governor to prioritize election legislation — makes changes to Texas' election law likely this year.

"Texas has been working on election integrity for a while," said state Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Republican who chairs the State Affairs Committee and introduced a 27-page omnibus bill with several new restrictions and penalties.

"This was already in process, but then the 2020 election was so in the national spotlight, and so many people have questions, so many people have concerns," he said. "I would say that has raised the profile of the issue."

Former President Donald Trump's stolen election lie has convinced 3 of every 4 Republicans that there was widespread voter fraud in last year's election, according to a December Quinnipiac University poll, even though there is broad evidence that it is extremely rare.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office spent 22,000 hours looking for voter fraud and uncovered just 16 cases of false addresses on registration forms, according to The Houston Chronicle. Nearly 17 million voters are registered in Texas.

Several of the bills seem aimed at preventing things that happened elsewhere in the U.S.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from Harris County, has sponsored a bill that would prohibit election officials from waiving signature match requirements on mail ballots, which he said hasn't happened in Texas.

"We saw it in Atlanta, Pennsylvania — Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee," he said, pointing to many of the Democratic cities with large populations of Black voters that Trump's allies baselessly accused of orchestrating a large voter fraud campaign to steal the election.

A court ruling waived Pennsylvania's signature match requirements in ballot verification last year, but the three other cities verified voters who cast mail ballots. In Wisconsin, voters verified their identities by including copies of their photo IDs on the ballot application, and witnesses were required to sign affidavits on that ballot. Georgia and Michigan also verify signature matches on mail ballots.

Pressed on that, Bettencourt said it didn't matter.

"Just the fact that we saw it in Pennsylvania for sure is enough," he said. "We just don't want election officials going down that path here."