EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Members of El Paso’s state delegation believe they are fighting for Texans’ civil rights and are opposing a described overreach of power by Republican legislators.
House Reps. Mary Gonzalez, Joe Moody, Lina Ortega and Claudia Ordaz Perez continue their daily briefing with the press from Washington, D.C., on their effort to pushback against proposed election legislation in Texas. El Paso’s representatives say proposals in Austin would hurt Texans’ access to the ballot box and are looking for action from federal legislators.
And, while there are other issues that Democrats oppose, elections have been the focal point of this week’s discussions.
This week, they met with Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Elizabeth Warren.
“We are here for a lot of different reasons, but the top two reasons are that we have to protect the people’s right to vote, our constitutional right. It’s a civil rights issue,” Ortega said. “And, we also have to stop the abuse of power that has been occurring by state leadership.”
On the table in the Texas legislature’s special session are at least eight major changes to election laws. Mainly, seven have drawn heavy criticism from Democrats in the state and at the federal level.
On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden called Texas’ proposals “un-American” and “un-Democratic” in his remarks at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
But while federal lawmakers wrangle with their own debates over election laws, El Paso legislators are making their case on why certain proposals should not be made into law.
“This legislation is probably one of the most harmful in the United States,” Ordaz Perez said.
Local political analyst Richard Pineda, the director of the Sam Donaldson Center at the University of Texas at El Paso, says Democrats are doing what they can to stop the legislation but also draw attention to Republican agendas in Texas.
“I think what this will whittle down to by the end, is any chance that the voters rights are being undercut in Texas, even if it seems like these are small issues in the grand scheme of voting, their argument is going to be that if you give even an inch on this, it’s going to kick open a door and take a foot,” Pineda said.
Many ask, what is the legislation that El Paso legislators and other Democrats fighting against?
Requirements that voting be conducted inside a building.
Both House and Senate bills would require polling locations to be inside of a building, effectively stopping future attempts at establishing drive-thru locations. During the 2020 primary and general elections, drive-thru voting became a method for polls to make voting easier as the global pandemic prompted local governments to issue emergency orders.
Limited voting hours
Bills in the House and Senate would limit the time allotted for polls to be open. A House proposal would limit polls to be open between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., the Senate version would only be open until 9 p.m.
The bills could effectively ban 24-hour voting options for polling sites.
Prohibition of sending unsolicited applications for mail-in ballots.
The bills would stop local election officials from sending applications for mail-in-ballots to residents and the House version would make it a state felony. The bills also make it so that government agencies cannot spend tax dollars to help facilitate the unsolicited distribution of applications by third parties.
Political parties would be able to send applications but have to purchase materials with their own funds.
ID requirements for mail voting
When voting by mail, residents will need to provide a driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number under both bills in the state congress.
Only voters 65 and older, individuals with a disability or illness, jailed residents or people out of the county are able to vote by mail.
For now, the state uses signature matching to verify ballots.
Correction for mail-in-ballots
In both bills, mail-in ballots that do no have a signature or lack endorsement from a local review board are not immediately rejected.
Monthly citizenship checks
Senate bill calls for monthly reviews of state voter rolls. Legislators are looking to identify non-citizens. The bill requires the Secretary of State’s office to compare lists off of DPS records.
The House bill would require judges to inform individuals who are convicted if they will be ineligible to vote. And, requires proof other than a provisional ballot to count as a crime if someone is trying to vote illegally. This legislation is not contested as it is perceived to be a bill created as a concession to Democratic requests.
Poll watchers, under both bills, are granted more liberties. They are able to move more freely through a polling area except being present near a voting station.
It would also become a criminal offense to obstruct the view or distance a watcher can have, if it is deemed unreasonable.