Texas Senate Passes Bill Restricting Vote-by-Mail and Early Voting

A sign that says "Deliver vote by mail application & ballot here" with caution tape in front of it.
A sign sits outside of a mail ballot drop-off site, which was closed after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order limiting each Texas county to one mail ballot drop-off site, in Houston, Texas, U.S., October 1, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Callaghan O'Hare

The Texas Senate passed S.B. 7, a bill that severely restricts the right of Texans to vote, on March 7, 2021. If signed into law, this proposal would erect more deliberate barriers to voting, prohibiting local efforts to expand voting access and silencing Texans in the process.

S.B. 7 makes it harder for people to vote by cutting early voting hours, prohibiting drive thru voting, barring local election officials from sending vote-by-mail ballot applications to voters who have not requested them and allowing partisan poll watchers to videotape voters at polling places.

Many of the provisions in this legislation come as a direct response to the fact that Texans, especially in the state’s increasingly diverse urban and suburban communities, turned out to vote in record numbers in the 2020 elections.

For instance, the limit on early voting hours follows the decision of Harris County, the state’s most populous county and the nation’s most racially diverse metropolitan area, to have a day of 24-hour voting leading up to the election last year.

Several other large counties also made the decision to leave polling locations open until 10 p.m. in the days leading up to the election to increase access for voters working nontraditional hours.

S.B. 7 also targets methods of voting that worked effectively for communities of color in the state’s urban areas. According to an analysis by Harris County’s election office, more than half of the votes counted both at drive thru sites and during extended hours were submitted by Black or Hispanic people.

This bill is a power grab by Texas state legislators to try to cherry-pick their voters and limit the ability of everyday Texans to exercise their freedom to vote.

The state already has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. The passage of this bill fits into a trend of high-profile state politicians cracking down on people’s ability to exercise their right to vote. In October 2020, Texas’ Gov. Greg Abbott signed a proclamation limiting options for returning mail-in ballots.

More recently, the Texas House has been working to approve H.B. 6, which includes many of the same provisions from S.B. 7. Like S.B. 7, H.B. 6 would make it illegal for local election officials to send mail-in ballot applications to voters who have not requested them and create allowances for partisan poll watchers, raising concerns of voter intimidation. 

The move to pass S.B. 7 also fits into a national trend of states restricting access to voting after a multiracial coalition of over 160 million Americans voted in the 2020 general election. As of March 24, 2021, 361 bills with provisions aimed at limiting voting access had been introduced in 47 states, according to the Brennan Center.

The freedom to vote is one of our most fundamental freedoms. We must ensure that every person can cast a ballot so we are able to elect leaders who govern in our interests and make the promise of our democracy real for us all. 

Georgia is a Communications Assistant at CLC.