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Texas Republicans target Houston with raft of bills seeking new voting restrictions

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Republican lawmakers introduced two dozen bills that would make voting difficult in Texas ahead of Friday’s deadline. These bills would prevent counties from sending absentee ballot application forms to people who did not ask for them, would limit the authority of counties to extend voting hours, would require faster purges of voter lists. , would facilitate the challenge of signatures in absentee voting and more.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Republican sponsors of two of those bills Monday identified the bogeyman who inspired the legislative impulses: Harris County, the state’s largest county, and the Houston House. Democrats have made significant gains in the last election in what was once a conservative-leaning area, helping the party narrow Republican Party margins in state elections and giving Republicans incentives to try to limit votes.

At a news conference in Houston, Abbott, state representative Briscoe Cain and state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, criticized Harris County’s moves to try to expand access to the polls amid the coronavirus pandemic. The county kept early voting locations open 24 hours a day and opened driving polling stations. County officials also tried to send voting requests by mass mail, however they were blocked to do so by the Texas Supreme Court.

“We need to pass laws to prevent election officials from jeopardizing the election process,” Abbott said after detailing Harris County’s treatment of the 2020 election.

Bills are part of a larger push for Republican-controlled state houses (including Georgia and Arizona) to enforce new laws to suppress votes after former President Donald Trump’s lie that election fraud was the guilty of his loss last year against President Joe Biden.

Abbott and other Republicans have offered no evidence of widespread fraud in Texas. The only example Abbott cited Monday was a 2014 case in which a man was accused of offering cocaine and cash for votes at a school board race in Donna, Texas.

Still, Abbott said efforts to expand access to voting like those in Harris County introduce “the potential for voter fraud.”

“There’s really one thing we can all and should agree on, and that is that we have to have confidence in our choices,” Abbott said. “One way to do that is to make sure we reduce the potential for voter fraud in our elections.”

He made no mention of the role of Republicans in undermining that trust by falsely claiming that the results in several swing states were tainted and trying to overthrow them in court and in Congress.

Matt Angle, a Democratic strategist who founded the Lone Star Project, a committee of political action that supports Democrats, said Republicans are heading to Harris County because of the increase in the Democratic turnout. – along with Tarrant County, home of Fort Worth – “the two fundamental types of counties.”

“When Democrats get up to 55% constantly in Harris County and when we bring in Tarrant County, it will be difficult for Republicans to make up for it in rural counties,” Angle said.

Legislative moves by Republican lawmakers come after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against Republican attorneys general in 17 states to deprive Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin voters of annulment. their results based on unfounded allegations of fraud. Texas Gov. Lieutenant Dan Patrick in November offered a $ 1 million reward for evidence of electoral fraud in Texas, but has yet to pay anyone.

The Paxton team looking for election fraud in the 2020 election found only 16 examples of false addresses on registration forms in Harris County after more than 22,000 hours of time investigating staff, treported Houston Chronicle.

“It’s part of the big lie,” Lina Hidalgo, who as Harris County judge is the county’s chief executive, told CNN on Monday. “It’s part of the intimidation, the confusion, the jokes that (the Republican Party) has been involved in for so many generations that culminated in President Trump asking people to cancel the election.”

“What they do is present bills that are essentially a tax on polls that arm the electoral system against our voters,” Hidalgo said. “Obviously, these Republicans expect their work to disauthorize most Democrats. But the truth is, it will disenfranchise both parties. And what they’re proposing is absolutely tragic and reminiscent of the worst we’ve seen in Texas and the South since Reconstruction “.

Meanwhile, Cain, the House of Texas Republican who sided with Abbott on Monday, said “the only way to suppress voters” is through illegal voting.

“You know, the only way to suppress voters is when an illegitimate voter, an ineligible voter, casts a ballot. When an ineligible voter casts the ballot, what they’re really doing is silencing the voice of a voter. American citizen, from someone who is eligible to vote. It’s wrong and we should stop it, “Cain said.

Bettencourt said he was pushing for “uniformity” between the first hours of county voting, which he said could not be considered “anything more than positive because everyone can see those hours.”

“I don’t think there’s any denial of voter rights with that. I think uniformity is what we need in Texas so that returning rural voters have the same access as urban voters,” he said.

Abbott in February declared that electoral security would be an emergency item on the agenda of the Texas legislature for its 2021 session.

“Electoral fraud is unacceptable and that is why I have made this issue an emergency this session,” he said Monday. “Our goal is very simple, and it is to ensure that all eligible voters can vote. It is also to ensure that only eligible voters are the ones who count at the polls.”

Time and time again, Abbott and GOP lawmakers pointed to Harris County’s efforts to expand access to voting in 2020 as examples of what they want to ban.

Other Republican lawmakers have also cited Harris County, including state Rep. Jared Patterson, who said “irregularities in Harris County voting hours and the opportunity for voter fraud when no one is watching” prompted a bill he introduced that would ban counties from allowing early voting from 9 p.m.

“Mom always said nothing good happens after midnight. That includes polling stations,” Patterson said. he said on Twitter in late February.

Bettencourt called at 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to vote everywhere and said keeping the same hours everywhere “helps rural jeans feel like they have the same opportunity as urban jeans,” despite the reality that urban voters often face long lines that do not exist in rural areas.

Proposals such as Bettencourt Senate Bill 7, which would prohibit public officials from submitting absentee ballot application forms and require identification with returned ballots by email, and Cain’s Bill 6 House, which similarly bans the submission of ballot application forms in the absence of county election officials not modifying election procedures without the approval of the Texas secretary of state, is largely trying to ban election officials locals who make their own decisions about the administration of elections.

“A lot of them seem pretty technical, but what they really do is increase the authority of the Texas secretary of state to direct counties to do specific things,” Angle said.

Bradner reported from Chicago and Gallagher reported from Houston.

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