WASHINGTON, D.C — On Friday, Sept. 1, a slew of Republican-backed bills attacking the right to vote and hampering election administration in Texas will go into effect. Passed by the Texas Legislature in May and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in June, Senate Bills 1070, 1750 and 1933 and House Bill 1243 will place additional burdens on voters and election officials in Texas.
As states like Florida and Georgia turn toward criminalizing the voting process, Texas has now joined the ranks by raising the penalty of illegal voting to a felony through H.B. 1243. The bill marked a reversal of a provision in the state’s 2021 omnibus voter suppression law, Senate Bill 1, which decreased the penalty for illegal voting to a misdemeanor. Voting rights advocates have warned that the bill will not only fail to deter illegal voting, but will also lead to unnecessary incarcerations.
Not content with just attacking the right to vote, Texas Republicans put election administration in further jeopardy with S.B. 1070, which will remove the state from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) on Oct. 19. The Texas Department of State had previously announced the creation of a position to “develop and manage an interstate voter registration crosscheck program,” a move that foreshadowed the state’s eventual departure.
As a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, ERIC used to be a noncontroversial coalition that served as a way for over 30 states to maintain accurate voter rolls. Despite this, Texas became the largest Republican-led state to leave the organization, motivated largely by a January 2022 article that made a slew of baseless accusations against ERIC. That article inspired the first departure just weeks later, when Louisiana left the compact. A domino effect subsequently ensued, with nine states having now left the compact.
In another blow to election administration, the Legislature launched a full-scale assault on elections in Harris County. S.B. 1750, which passed in May, abolishes the appointed election administrator position for counties with 3.5 million people or more, and Harris County is the only county in the state that qualifies. With the position now abolished, duties return to the elected county clerk and county tax assessor.
Less than a week later, in a brazen move, Republicans in Texas passed S.B. 1933, which gives the secretary of state the power to direct election administration in counties of four million or more if anyone who participated in the election, such as a candidate or political party chair, files a complaint. Once again, Harris County is the only county that meets that population threshold. After this low standard is met, the secretary of state could then approve or reject any election policy as well as fire election officials.
Although it pales in comparison, the Legislature did have one bright spot that will come to fruition tomorrow. House Bill 357 will improve the mail-in voting process for Texans by allowing voters to track their ballot without submitting a home address, a move advocates say will make tracking ballots less complicated.