Texas Republicans on Thursday brought back efforts to ban 24-hour polling places and drive-through voting as Gov. Greg Abbott opened a special legislative session aimed at notching late victories on a lengthy conservative agenda left unfinished last month.
Republicans unveiled the details of the overhaul of the voting laws, a do-over of a push thwarted by Democrats when they walked out of the statehouse. Similar to the GOP’s sweeping bill blocked in May, the revived version also would empower partisan poll watchers and ban drop boxes for mail-in ballots, making it one of the most comprehensive reworking of a state’s voting and election system passed this year.
But it’s far from the only thing on the Texas GOP’s to-do list. Republicans also will attempt to impose new abortion restrictions and rules over classroom lessons and ban transgender athletes from participating in girls’ sports.
Democrats have cast the agenda as a ploy to shore up conservative voters ahead of 2022, when Abbott is up for reelection. Already, the two-term governor has drawn two primary challengers.
The rushed schedule riled Democrats, who attacked Abbott over handing them a to-do list of nearly a dozen items but excluded more improvements to the state’s power grid following a deadly February blackout and calls to conserve power when sweltering temperatures returned.
“That’s what Abbott should be focused on, not his next primary election, not pandering to Donald Trump and his extremist base,” said Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner, chairman of the House Democratic caucus. “He ought to be working for the people of Texas.”
Abbott began the latest session with a show of strength, announcing that his campaign was now sitting on $55 million heading into the midterm elections, setting yet another record for a Texas governor. He said the GOP-controlled Legislature was ready to get his agenda passed.
“We have to have integrity in our elections,” Abbott told Dallas radio station WBAP.
Under the new voting legislation filed by the House and Senate, GOP lawmakers continued a push to ban the soliciting of mail ballot applications by an election clerk — efforts that began in Harris County, which includes Houston and is Texas’ largest Democratic stronghold. The new bills also revive expanded rights to poll watchers.
However, some items originally included in May’s final version of the voting bill that sparked the Democrats’ walkout, including a limiting of Sunday early-voting hours, were notably absent from versions filed for the special session.
Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain, the author of May’s blocked voting legislation, declined to comment on the special session’s approach to voting laws. The new House voting bill is being carried by Republican state Rep. Andrew Murr, who did not respond to an interview request Thursday.
The GOP’s overwhelming majority in the Texas Capitol makes it likely that a voting bill will pass. Democrats have vowed to continue fighting and have not ruled out breaking quorum again.
Other new bills that Abbott wants on his desk before the end of summer include new restrictions on how race can be taught in public schools, as the concept known as critical race theory becomes the new lightning rod of the GOP.
Abbott also is demanding new border security measures, added restrictions over abortions done by medication and a law reaffirming existing prohibitions in Texas on transgender student athletes playing girls’ sports.