Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Team Trump on Tour stops in San Antonio at the Trump San Antonio Field Office at 140 Heimer Road on September 3, 2020.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appeared at a Team Trump on Tour stop in San Antonio in September 2020. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Texas has been a one-party state for more than two decades now, and if the current Republican leaders have anything to say about it, a restrictive new election law will keep it that way by making it harder for people in the state’s big cities and counties to vote.

The proposed legislation makes no substantive changes in election procedures in suburban and rural counties where Republicans dominate.

The New York Times cited a Cost of Voting Index in an article published Saturday that cites Texas as the state with the most restrictive election laws. The Texas GOP is not acting alone. At a time when voting rights groups say modernizing election processes are key to increased citizen participation, an unprecedented number of proposed bills in red states aim to quash innovation and restrict how people can register and vote. The coordinated efforts come after a record voter turnout for the November 2020 election that cost the Republican party control of the White House and the U.S. Senate.

Turnout was spurred by a deeply divided electorate and by local election officials responding to the pandemic by expanding early voting days and hours, replacing precinct voting with countywide voting, and increasing access to mail-in ballots.

After former Vice President Joe Biden’s decisive win, President Donald Trump and his followers in the Republican party and in right-wing media launched a nationwide disinformation campaign claiming widespread voter fraud in states Trump lost.

No evidence of voter fraud significant enough to affect the outcome in any of those states was produced by Trump or his supporters. Federal and state courts across the land and, eventually, Congress uniformly rejected such claims. Still, the fraud and conspiracy charges led a pro-Trump mob to violently storm the U.S. Capitol. Even now, more than five months after the election, conservative cable news personalities and some GOP officeholders cling to the phony election fraud narrative.

Signs in support of free and fair elections are seen at a rally on Nov. 4, 2020.
Signs in support of free and fair elections are seen at a rally on Nov. 4, 2020. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Against that backdrop, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made Senate Bill 7 a legislative priority this session. In November, Patrick offered $1 million to anyone who could produce evidence of voter fraud in Texas, a publicity stunt that failed to surface any voter fraud, much less a payout by Patrick.

Still, quick passage of the bill under Patrick means the Texas House under newly elected Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) will now decide whether to approve its own bill or allow the legislation to die in committee. Gov. Greg Abbott, who has made unproven assertions of serious voter fraud in Texas dating back to his days as the state’s attorney general, is expected to sign such a bill into law if it reaches his desk.

SB 7 takes aim at the state’s five biggest counties – Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, and Travis – with populations of 1 million people or more. Most voting rights experts say voter suppression bills like SB7 and the bill recently signed into law in Georgia target minority and inner city citizens who vote Democratic.

Such legislation would come at a high cost for Texas. Georgia has already lost future conventions, sports events, and feature film projects. Events like the recent NCAA women’s basketball championship staged in and around San Antonio likely would no longer come to Texas if SB7 became law. American Airlines and Dell Technologies, among other prominent corporations, have expressed strong opposition to the bill.

Senate Bill 7 is designed to eliminate the innovative measures taken by county election officials last year to promote a strong and safe turnout in the pandemic. It would end expanded early voting, reduce the number of poll sites and people’s ability to vote at the one of their own choosing, and stop local election officials from sending out mail-in ballots unless specifically requested. Drive-thru voting, introduced in Harris County last year, 24-hour poll sites, and late-hour voting also would be prohibited.

Party activists would be given greater access inside poll sites, which experts see as a form of voter intimidation, while volunteer poll workers could face criminal prosecution for helping the elderly and others to fill out their ballots.

If Texas does pass a voter restriction law, opponents will undoubtedly seek relief in the courts, eventually leaving the U.S. Supreme Court to rule. Texas will be forced to spend millions of dollars defending its new law.

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who remains under criminal indictment, would lead that effort. Paxton organized various Republican attorneys general in an effort to challenge Biden’s victory. The group failed to produce any evidence of voter fraud influencing a single election outcome in Texas or any other state. That isn’t stopping him and fellow Republicans from pretending to solve a problem that does not exist.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.