Special session begins tomorrow, election integrity bill in the spotlight

Posted at 8:53 PM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 21:53:01-04

Governor Abbott releasing the agenda for the 87th Legislative Special Session. Lawmakers will make their way to Austin and reconvene Thursday at 10:00 am.

This special session agenda is packed with controversial topics, most notably election integrity, highlighted in Senate Bill 7.

"The eyes of the country are on Texas," said Dr. Patrick Flavin, Professor of Political Science at Baylor University.

All eleven agenda items have strong opinions on both sides of the aisle, but the topic of election integrity has the attention of the entire country. More than a dozen states, with a majority of Republican legislatures, have passed similar voting restriction laws.

"National news is paying attention and focused on what Texas is doing. Texas is in the national spotlight, and I think it will continue to be particularly for the elections bill," Dr. Flavin said.

Tensions surrounding this elections bill in the Lone Star state sparked when Texas Democrats staged a walkout, breaking quorum, to ensure there would be no vote on the bill. While some Republicans say it was unnecessary and unprofessional, Democrats say the last-minute changes made by state senate leaders, was unfair and specifically targeting black and brown voters.

"There were additional provisions added sort of at the last minute that wasn't agreed to had been or debated by Democrats," Dr. Flavin said.

This leading Gov. Abbott to cutting legislator's pay. However, Flavin says there is room for compromise despite the current tension.

"It's likely that some provisions will be changed and negotiated a little bit. For example, one provision would have limited Sunday voting," he said. "There is some room for negotiation. Democrat's records aren't going to get everything they want. They're the minority party in the house in the Senate, and so sort of their best chances to try to sort of tweak things around in the margins."

The nonprofit, Secure Democracy, conducting their own research into what Texans say they want to see, regarding this election's integrity bill.

Sarah Walker, Executive Director of Secure Democracy said, "Election integrity is actually creating access and accountability at the same time, and SB 7 conference committee report didn't create that access."

Walker says their research indicates that 90% of Texans want to see an increase in voting access and not more restrictions.

"The things that they do support with broad bipartisan support are actually early voting, being able to fix your ballot, what we call ballot curing if someone makes a simple mistake," said Walker.

Many opposing restrictions on polling locations and criminalization of elections administrators.

Walker said, "Proposing felony criminalization for both elections administrators, and voters, and often for voters for those who make simple mistakes, and in a time period when elections administrators have been threatened repeatedly. Now, they're going to penalize them and threaten them with possible prosecution if they make a mistake. This is the wrong message to send voters. It goes against access, and it goes against text and a strong history of nonpartisan election administration in the state of Texas."

Ultimately, the decisions in the hands of those elected to serve.

"The legislature is limited in what they can debate, but they're under no obligation to decide or to pass a bill on any of those issues," Dr. Flavin said. "They could just sit on their hands if they want to. I don't think that will be the case. I think Republicans in the legislature are for the most part on the same page as Governor Abbott, and they want to make these turn these into law but they're under no obligation to do so."

Dr. Flavin said, Democrats, will have to strategize how they plan to negotiate around this election integrity bill. Flavin says there is a chance we could see another walkout. Political analysts said there will undoubtedly be some heated debates surrounding some of these hot ticket items.