Harris County Commissioners Court Votes to Sue over Texas Election Integrity Law Not Yet Passed

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 06: A woman hands out "I voted" stickers to voters at the Rummel Creek Elementary polling place on November 6, 2018 in Houston, Texas. Voters visited polling places around Texas on Election Day to cast their ballots in the midterms. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)
Loren Elliott/Getty Images

The Harris County Commissioners Court voted on Tuesday to file a lawsuit against an election integrity bill that has not yet been passed by the Texas State Legislature or signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX).

The Texas House of Representatives passed its version of Senate Bill 7, a major election integrity bill, on Friday, 78 to 64. “A more robust version of the bill … was passed last month by the Texas State Senate in an 18 to 13 vote,” Breitbart News reported.

The conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill is not scheduled to convene until next week, but “Harris County [has already] signaled it will sue the state of Texas if new Republican-backed restrictions on voting become law, after county commissioners voted 3-2 along party lines to pursue legal action Tuesday,” Houston Public Media reported.

Democrats have attempted to exploit language included in a version of the bill that emerged from the House Committee but that was removed in an amendment prior to the final vote in the House to paint the entire bill as racially discriminatory. The Washington Post reported on the exchange between State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) and one of the bill’s main sponsors, State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), on the floor of the House early Friday that focused on that language:

The bill said its purpose was to punish fraud and maintain the “purity of the ballot box,” as instructed by the Texas Constitution.

“Are you aware of the history behind that provision of the Constitution?” Anchía asked state Rep. Briscoe Cain (R), one of the legislation’s main sponsors. . .

“I guess I thought purity meaning ‘not having fraud in it’ or something,” he told Anchía.

Article 6, Section 4 of the Texas Constitution, as ratified in 1876 and subsequently amended in 1891 and 1966 reads:

In all elections by the people, the vote shall be by ballot, and 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. [Emphasis added]

SB 7 as passed by the Senate did not include language about “the purity of the ballot box.” The version of the bill under consideration at the beginning of the floor debate in the Texas House of Representatives on the evening of May 6 and into the early morning of May 7 that sparked the dialogue between Anchia and Cain stated:

The purpose of this Act is to exercise the legislature’s constitutional authority under Section 4, Article VI, Texas Constitution, to make all laws necessary to detect and punish fraud and preserve the purity of the ballot box.

After the exchange between Anchia and Briscoe early Friday morning, the bill’s sponsors quickly introduced an amendment to delete the words “and preserve the purity of the ballot box” from the bill. The amendment easily passed, and the bill, as passed by the House does not include those words.

But Democrats on the Harris County Commission were eager to highlight the words that are in neither the House nor the Senate versions of SB 7:

County Attorney Christian Menefee argued that the main bills, House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7, specifically target Harris County voting practices and would discriminate against minority voters. . .

“One of the things I’ve heard defenders of these bills, judge, argue is that the bills are not discriminatory because they do not explicitly target African Americans or Hispanic people,” Menefee said. “Well, Rep. Cain’s ‘purity at the ballot box’ language aside, that’s an antiquated way of assessing whether voting laws are discriminatory.”

Republicans in the Texas State Legislature, however, are focused on the provisions actually included in the bill and expect to pass the election integrity bill before the current session ends.

“Regardless of which legislative vehicles receive a final vote on the floor,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX-21), wrote in a letter sent to the Texas Speaker of the House and Texas Lieutenant Governor last week:

“I strongly encourage the legislature to put forth final bill text, taken in totality or in a single vehicle, for the Governor that includes safeguards for elections, including but not limited to:

  • Requiring voter identification for both in-person voting and absentee ballots

  • Improving the integrity of mail-in ballots

  • Prohibiting ballot harvesting

  • Ensuring the integrity of voter registration rolls, including that only citizens are voting

  • Providing oversight and ethics safeguards for counties accepting private money to fund government election operations.”

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) is expected to sign the bill into law when it passes both houses.

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