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After An All-Night, Weekend Hearing, Texas Republicans Advance Voting Measures

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Texas lawmakers are advancing a bill with new rules on voting and new penalties for doing it wrong. Texas Republicans are joining Republicans in many states who are changing voting rules in response to false claims about the 2020 election. The last time the Republican Party tried this in Texas in May, Democrats walked out and brought the legislature to a halt right at the end of its session. Now Republicans are trying again in a special session. Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies reports on a weekend hearing over the bill.

DAVID MARTIN DAVIES, BYLINE: All night Saturday and into Sunday morning, hundreds of witnesses came.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARINA BASS: Thank you for allowing me to speak today. My name is Marina Bass (ph). And I'm here representing myself. I am also here to oppose Senate Bill 1.

MELISSA O'BRIEN: My name is Melissa O'Brien (ph). And I represent myself. As a proud American, I'm supporting SB1.

DAVIES: SB1 is the latest effort by Republican lawmakers in various states to pass laws that will make it more difficult to vote, especially for people of color. Supporters say it's about voter integrity, a contention that many witnesses challenged.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLOEY GOODMAN: My name is Cloey Goodman. I'm here representing myself. And there's no evidence of widespread voter fraud here in Texas. I know you've heard anecdotes. But anecdotes are not a good foundation for legislation.

JACK FINGER: This thing about voter suppression, that is a major false claim, a joke.

DAVIES: Jack M. Finger, a San Antonio Republican, testified that Texas offers multiple ways to vote, including two weeks of early voting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FINGER: How much more does Texas have to bend over backwards for the voter? And voting is not supposed to be easy. That's what our men died for.

DAVIES: This is the second time this summer that Texas lawmakers are wrestling with this election's legislation. Earlier, Democratic House members killed that voter restriction bill with a quorum-busting walkout. This forced Texas Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session. Two of the most controversial elements are gone, limiting Sunday-morning voting hours and allowing a judge to toss election results without evidence of fraud. However, voting rights advocates like former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke testified that he continues to oppose the bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BETO O’ROURKE: Whether it's ending 24-hour voting or allowing free reign to poll watchers and making it harder to be able to vote by mail and an absentee ballot, this is going to make it tougher, not easier, for those who should have a say in our elections.

DAVIES: Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Governor Abbott explained that the bill is needed. He said banning drive-through voting protects the privacy of voters.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

GREG ABBOTT: You're going to have people in the car with you. And it could be somebody from your employer or somebody else who may have some coercive effect.

DAVIES: Abbott compared Texas voting to President Biden's home state, Delaware.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

ABBOTT: It's far easier to vote. And yet nobody is claiming that there's some type of voter suppression taking place in Delaware.

DAVIES: In the last election, Texas voter turnout was 60%. And in Delaware, it was 70%. The Senate hearing lasted 14 hours. Simultaneously, the Texas House committee was hearing witnesses until 6 o'clock Sunday morning. Both committees passed their election bills. And they advanced to floor votes in the coming days. The question is, what will the Democrats do this time? Armando Walle is a representative from Harris County.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ARMANDO WALLE: I'm here to tell you that all this hateful rhetoric, all this hateful legislation needs to end. But we're here now. And we are going to fight these bills tooth and nail. And every option is on the table. We're going to use every parliamentary means available to us to stop these bills.

DAVIES: That could include another quorum-busting walkout to torpedo the voting restriction bill again.

For NPR News, I'm David Martin Davies in San Antonio.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONTEMPORARY NOISE QUINTET'S "SOPHIE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.