Critics have assailed the voter measures as comparable to the abuses of Jim Crow, an era in which the white political power structure in Texas and other Southern states used tactics such as the now-unconstitutional poll tax and literacy tests to perpetuate segregation and suppress minority voters.
House members passed Senate Bill 7 at 3 a.m. on Friday, sending it back to the Senate to resolve differences between the two chambers before the May 31 adjournment. Before the final vote on Friday, House Republican leaders accepted a number of amendments, such as reduction of criminal penalties proposed under an earlier version of the bill for various infractions committed by election officials, including unauthorized removal of a poll watcher.
During legislative discussion, State Representative Rafael Anchía, a Democrat, questioned State Representative Briscoe Cain, the Republican chair of the House Elections Committee, on the use of the phrase “purity of the ballot box” in the legislation. The phrase was used in the Texas Constitution and during the Jim Crow era as the basis for excluding Black residents from all-white primaries. The phrase was from removed from the bill.
Democrats said the bill still contains unacceptable provisions that could hinder voting among minorities, older people and urban residents trying to avoid long lines to vote. One provision prohibits counties from distributing unrequested mail-in ballots to voters, which would bar a repeat of a Harris County initiative that drew fierce opposition from Republican officials.
The Texas business community, which initially remained largely silent, has also intensified its opposition, with more 200 businesses warning that the measures could restrict voter access and undercut the Texas economy. American Airlines and Dell Technologies, the first to oppose the bills, have since been joined by other companies including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Etsy, Patagonia, Warby Parker and Gearbox.
A recurring theme throughout the hour-and-a-half-long rally was that the fight was not over even though the session was nearing adjournment and Republicans held the upper hand. Representative Chris Turner, the Democratic leader in the House, said Republicans could count on legal action if Democrats were unable to block the bills in the Legislature.
“We’ll see them in court,” he said.