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Texas Lawmakers Take Another Shot At Passing New Voting Laws

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Texas Republicans are taking a second shot at passing new voting laws that would restrict access. They say the new laws are needed to restore integrity to elections, even though there hasn't been evidence of any wide-scale election fraud in the Lone Star State. The new proposals come after Democrats blocked an earlier effort by dramatically walking out of the state Capitol in May.

Joining us to explain all this is reporter Ashley Lopez of member station KUT in Austin. Hi, Ashley.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, Ashley, what's in these bills? And if enacted, how would they affect voting in Texas in future elections?

LOPEZ: Well, these bills are actually very similar to what Republicans had tried to pass earlier this year. So they're proposing bans on drive-through voting, bans on 24-hour voting centers. And they also want to create some new ID requirements for ballot by mail, which is already a pretty limited program here. Republicans in Texas also want to prohibit election officials from giving a vote-by-mail applications to anyone who didn't ask for one first.

Beyond that, these bills literally create, like, a slew of criminal penalties related to voting. So voters could get in some serious legal trouble for making some innocent mistakes while voting. And just for context, Texas already has - is already one of the hardest, if not the hardest state to vote in. So a lot of these proposed changes to the state's election code are kind of like a thousand little cuts to the few ways that people can actually access the ballot here in Texas.

FADEL: So if enacted, more limitations on how to vote - but by all accounts, elections in Texas ran smoothly last fall and had a record turnout. Why do Republicans say these bills are needed?

LOPEZ: You know, I've heard a couple of explanations. For one, Republicans have said that even anecdotes of voter fraud warrant a response. They say they don't need to prove that there's a widespread problem with voter fraud in order to prevent it from becoming a big problem. But another argument I've heard from mostly our lieutenant governor is that Republican voters are worried about election security after the 2020 election. This is important to them. So Republican leaders feel like they need to respond to their voters by taking this issue seriously, even though there's no evidence to support that there were serious issues with the election. But attorneys in the state who are experts on voting say this - that these bills won't actually make elections more secure.

I talked to James Slattery with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

JAMES SLATTERY: There isn't any election security benefit to nearly any of these provisions. And it's all in service of a big lie and enshrining the big lie even further into the laws of this most restrictive state in the country.

FADEL: So what do Democrats say about this? And is there any sign they plan to stage another walkout?

LOPEZ: Well, Democrats say they're prepared to work with Republicans if they are meaningfully included in the process this time. Last time, there was a lot of controversial provisions that were added to the Republican voting bill, mostly in secret right before a final vote that didn't get any Democratic input. And Democrats say if this is going to be, like, a repeat of what happened last time, then they will yet again try to stop any legislation that makes voting harder using any power they have. And that could include a walkout.

FADEL: Now, last week, the Supreme Court ruled that states can enact restrictive voting laws in the name of curbing fraud, even if those laws make it harder for minority communities to vote. What impact will this ruling have if Republicans pass these proposals this time?

LOPEZ: Well, in Texas, that ruling means mostly that advocates and voters of color have fewer ways to block any voting law that comes down that they allege infringes on their voting rights. So the stakes of whatever gets passed in Texas, if it's passed, of course, just got a big - a little bit higher recently.

FADEL: Ashley Lopez of member station KUT in Austin - thank you, Ashley.

LOPEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.