Grassroots activists sound the alarm over election integrity bill swapped out before House vote

By Bethany Blankley

Three days before the House was scheduled to vote on an election integrity bill Thursday, SB 1, election reform legislation passed by the Senate, was swapped out and replaced with another bill, HB3, heard by the Conference Committee during the 2021 regular session.

The bills are not the same, and those who testified Monday on SB1 expressed frustration and confusion over House Republicans swapping the legislation.

Grassroots activists argue HB3 is a watered-down version of SB1, and are calling on Texans to call their lawmakers to add amendments to the bill to bring it closer to the provisions of SB1.

Rep. Andrew Murr, R–Junction, who filed HB 3, says his bill is “identical” to the bill heard in a 14-hour hearing during the first special session. He said, “We’re picking up right where we left off.”

But multiple election integrity advocates told House members at the hearing on Monday that they want the Senate bill’s version to be considered.

One group, Texas Eagle Forum, is asking concerned citizens to call lawmakers to amend Section 4.03 of state election code to make it a Class A misdemeanor to not accept ballot watchers and to amend Section 4.07 to allow watchers to seek legal relief when they have been obstructed.

The Senate bill designates the offense as a Class A misdemeanor; the House version makes the offense a less serious, Class B misdemeanor.

Disability rights advocates also testified Monday, asking the House to include accommodations for disabled voters.

Colleen Vera, a Harris County election integrity advocate who testified, brought evidence of fraudulent mail ballot applications submitted in the names of voters in the district of state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D–Houston. She was among more than 50 House Democrats who fled to Washington, D.C. in protest of SB1.

Vera showed how the applications had signatures with the same handwriting filed by both living and dead registered voters. Houston voters confirmed their signatures used on dead voters’ ballots weren’t theirs, she said.

“That’s why voter ID is needed [for mail-in ballots], to stop vote harvesters,” she said.

“This is incredible. This is powerful,” State Rep. J.M. Lozano, R–Kingsville, told Vera.

Texas Eagle Forumis also asking that elections administrators be required to number ballots according to the Texas Constitution, which requires that “the Legislature shall provide for the numbering of tickets and make such other regulations as may be necessary to detect and punish fraud and preserve the purity of the ballot box; and the Legislature shall provide by law for the registration of all voters.”

During the 140-day regular legislative session, House Republicans did not pass election integrity reform, and Democrats left the House in the final hours of the session, breaking quorum and effectively killing the bill.

Gov. Greg Abbott made election reform a legislative priority for the first special session, which went nowhere because House Democrats fled the state. Three House Democrats from Houston returned after the second special session began, enabling the House to make quorum and conduct legislative business.

The second special session ends Sept. 5. If HB3 cannot be reconciled to be closer to SB1 it may not pass, or if it does pass and changes are not reconciled in conference committee, it may not pass. If election reform does not pass this session, the process starts over again in a third special session.

A third special session is likely to be called as none of the now 18 legislative priorities Abbott has required be addressed in the second special session have passed.