Common Cause Texas
Monday closed the 88th legislative session, a tumultuous closing just days after historic vote by the Texas house to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton. Going into the legislative session, Texas was ranked the fifth most difficult state to vote in – and despite a historic budget surplus, little was done over 140 days to invest in Texas elections and address the unique barriers Texas voters face compared to the rest of the nation.
Though we did not see common sense reforms like online voter registration become law, pro-democracy advocates can celebrate a few small wins on things like modernizing the online mail-in ballot tracker, improving curbside voting compliance, and helping elderly voters with voter ID access. This session indicates a path forward for a future for election reforms that can be productive and depoliticized, with many Common Cause supported legislation accruing bipartisan support.
Among the worst bills we successfully fought, that did not pass, were:
• Prohibition on poll sites on college campuses.
• Creation of Florida-style election marshals.
• Enabling election judges to have guns during early voting.
• Eliminating countywide polling place program.
Unfortunately, several bills that would undermine Texas elections have passed and are likely to be signed by Governor Abbott, including:
• SB 1750 – Elimination of Harris County Election Administrator position
• SB 1933 – State oversight and takeover of Harris County elections offices
• SB 1070 – Enabling Texas to leave the nonpartisan voter list maintenance compact
It is disappointing that in the final days of the Regular Session, lawmakers ceded to conspiracy theories and passed legislation that would create disparate conditions for Harris County voters. Legislation passed this session targets the largest and most diverse county in the state with punitive measures instead of productive solutions that invest in our elections. If problems persist in upcoming elections, they will be a direct result of these politically motivated anti-democratic bills.
As this legislative session comes to a close, the team at Common Cause Texas will be back at the capitol for any and all special sessions and/or impeachment trials.
We’ll also be working during the interim to closely examine House and Senate rules and compare with how other state legislatures operate with an eye towards producing recommendations to improve access and transparency in the 89th legislative session.
Katya Ehresman is the Voting Rights Program Manager at Common Cause Texas