Explained | The new Texas voting bill restricting access to the ballot box


Fears concerning the rights of voters in the U.S. have been further stoked by new legislation in Texas which looks to tighten the voting process in the State. Titled Senate Bill 1 the sweeping measures will have an impact on several aspects of voting. It comes just days after the national March calling for an end to the assualt on voting rights

'Drive-Thru no more'

Drive-thru voting will be banned in a move that will limit how Texans cast the vote moving forward. Having been introduced last year, the record turnout for the State in the 2020 presidential elections saw 127,000 Texans use drive-thru locations to cast their vote, with 1-in-10 early voters relying on this method. 

Drive-thru voting proved to be a success during the elections

Opposition to drive-thru voting has been clear for some time now. You may remember this as being one among many sticking points for Republicans in their post-election appeals following the November outcome. Their attempts to discount the votes in Texas were ultimately dismissed by the Texas supreme court last year.

Empowers partisan Poll Watchers

The bill hands partisan Poll watchers more autonomy by granting them “free movement” around voting facilities, while simultaneously making obstructing their view a criminal offence. However, they will still not be able to see the actual casting of ballots. The new autonomy presents a slight change in the relationship between poll watchers and election workers. 

Presently, Texas law sees voluntary Poll Watchers selected by parties or candidates with the task of observing “the conduct of an election”. They are partisan but can report suspicious activity to election workers. By Contrast, election workers work for their respective counties and assist pollsters on the day.

Contention over the role of Poll Watchers is not new, but it re-emerged as a flash point following elections last year.

The right to observe means that partisan poll watchers will now be able to sue or seek court orders against election workers who challenge their observation (operation eagle in 1964 gives some insight as to why the role of poll watchers is such a delicate subject in the U.S).

More pressingly, the new autonomy has led civil society groups to agonise over the possibility of voter intimidation, particularly against black and brown individuals.

ID Requirements and more

Other areas where voters look set to lose out include 24-hour voting polls being outlawed - these were offered at some polling stations in Harris County last year. Additional ID requirements for votes by mail are set to be implemented, and a ban on election officials sending mail-in ballots to eligible voters is also included in the bill.

While some states were able to send mail-in ballots to over 65’s, Harris County’s expanded approach to the initiative was ruled out by the supreme court last year. In the lead up to the election, officials intended to send mail-in ballots to all 2.4 million registered voters in the county. 

Included in Ian Millhiser's blitz of the proposed bill notes the current version of SB1 is the fact that it does not include some of the more "aggressive" elements of voter suppression seen in previous iterations. Nevertheless, the scope for engaging in election time democracy looks set to narrow that much further once again.

Mayowa Ayodele