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Bettencourt Strikes Again: New Legislation Limits Election Officials and Adds Obstacles
Voter Disenfranchisement Czar Bettencourt and Republicans: How they plan to further limit access to the ballot box in Texas.
Republicans have to push for policies that make it harder for people to vote. The only way that they can hold on to electoral success in Texas is by keeping certain groups of people from voting. Then, of course, they’ll say that their legislation is necessary to prevent so-called voter fraud and ensure the integrity of elections. However, through the language of their bills, they want to hang on to political power by disenfranchising as many Texans as possible.
This year is no exception, as hundreds of bills to restrict voting access have been filed.
Voter Disenfranchisement Czar Senator Paul Bettencourt.
Bettencourt, before becoming Senator, was a Harris County voter registrar. In 2005, Paul Bettencourt was hailed a conservative hero when it was announced he discovered immigrants were registered to vote. However, later, it came to light that Bettencourt was using this accusation to purge thousands of naturalized Hispanic citizens from the voter rolls.
Bettencourt intentionally purged Hispanics from the voter rolls to help keep white Republicans in power. However, after gaining a reputation as someone willing to fight Hispanic voting, Harris County Republicans championed him as a hero, winning his Senate seat in District 7 during the 2014 elections.
Since then, Bettencourt has spent every session in office pushing legislation that would disenfranchise people of color. Unfortunately, this session is no exception.
Brown Shirts Election Marshalls are coming to a polling place near you.
SB 220 by Bettencourt would establish these “Election Marshalls.” There’s also an identical bill in the House by Valoree Swanson. Under this bill, the Republican Secretary of State would assign an Election Marshall to every million people in Texas, and they would be organized by district. That would send five Election Marshalls to Harris County, where the population is 43% Hispanic and 19% Black. To the same effect, this bill would only send one Election Marshall to cover most of West Texas, where most of the population is white.
These Election Marshalls would patrol voting locations looking for election code violations. If they determine a code violation is occurring, they would be obligated to prevent it. Then, the Election Marshalls would be given the authority to file criminal charges, impound election records and voting equipment, and disqualify an election judge.
Why this should alarm everyone:
The GOP’s culture war against Democrats can lead to violence due to the increasingly polarized and divisive political climate in the United States. Their rhetoric demonizes and dehumanizes Democrats, portraying them as enemies of American values and promoting the idea that they are trying to destroy the country.
Republicans’ hatred of Democrats and minorities is something we’ve become all too familiar with as a society, and we have seen how this has led to discrimination and violence.
What will happen when the Republican Secretary of State assigns armed white Republicans to patrol voting locations in areas of color?
Some voters, especially elderly voters, might be too scared to vote. Or these Republican Election Marshalls could lie about code violations to get a polling place in a community of color shut down. Nothing good will come of this.
The further reduction of polling places:
SB 824 by Bettencourt penalizes school districts for failing to make their buildings available as polling places every day of the election and for every election. This bill disincentivizes districts from participating in the electoral process and will result in fewer polling places, longer lines, and more crowded voting locations. It will disproportionately affect communities that are already marginalized and have fewer resources. Mike Schofield filed an identical bill in the House.
Senator Drew Springer, Representative Frederick Frazier, and Representative Carrie Isaac each filed identical bills to completely ban schools from having polling locations. Unfortunately, the outcome of this bill is that it could make it more difficult for voters to access polling places, particularly in areas where schools are the most convenient and accessible public buildings.
Carrie Isaac also introduced HB 2390, bans polling places on college campuses. Banning polling places from college campuses could disproportionately affect specific communities, such as low-income and minority students, who may have fewer resources and face additional barriers to accessing the ballot.
Republicans filed all of the bills aimed at reducing polling places in Texas.
Destroying confidence in the election process.
SB 1039 by Paul Bettencourt and identical House Bill 2536 by Steve Toth allows specific individuals to request an explanation and supporting documentation for perceived election irregularities. The county clerk has to explain and provide supporting documentation within a particular timeframe. If the requestor is unsatisfied with the explanation and documentation, they can request an audit by the secretary of state.
The purpose of bills like these is to obliterate confidence in the election process and discourage voter turnout.
SB 1935 by Bettencourt requires counties to cooperate with the secretary of state in randomized election audits. This is another political tool to pressure certain counties and undermines trust in election results. This will further strain the relationship between the state and the counties, leading to lawsuits and increased tension in the election process.
Adding more obstacles for election officials to jump through:
SB 1936 by Bettencourt will restrict who can deliver election records and supplies, requiring a designated person to have worked at the same polling place as the presiding judge for at least four hours. This will limit flexibility and only impact specific communities.
Another bill by Bettencourt, SB 1937, will create County election boards consisting of various local officials and county political parties. EXCEPT county political parties will be precluded from primary elections. In smaller and rural counties, all of the elected officials are Republicans. So this will be a partisan shutout of primary elections in many counties, giving Republicans a further opportunity to rig elections.
SB 1993 by Bettencourt, Middleton, Creighton, Huffman, and Kolkhorst would allow the Republican Secretary of State to order a new election in a county with over one million people (Democratic counties). This bill targets urban areas, which are always blue. The reason is to change the initial outcome of an election when the election is seen as unfavorable to Republicans.
To further demonstrate how this bill is a partisan effort to get the Republican’s desired results in an election, check out this exchange between Representative Valoree Swanson and a representative from the Secretary of State’s office.
Unfortunately for this rep, Keith Ingram, he was demoted by the Republican Secretary of State for saying, “the November general election run by current Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum ‘had its challenges, but it was one of the best elections we’ve seen out of Harris County since Stan Stanart was clerk’ in 2018.”
Bettencourt also intends to give the Secretary of State the authority to suspend a county elections administrator if there is a perceived “recurring pattern of problems” with election administration. SB 823 will make it easier for political officials to remove county elections administrators for political reasons rather than for actual wrongdoing. In the House, Tom Oliverson introduced an identical bill, HB 2020.
Sticking with that theme, SB 1750 by Bettencourt will abolish the elections administrators in counties with over one million people and place elections administration with the county tax-assessor and county clerk. Identical bills in the House were filed by Briscoe Cain and Mike Schofield.
SB 221 by Bettencourt was read in committee today. It hasn’t been voted on yet and has to go through both sides of the legislature. This bill gives the Secretary of State’s office oversight of city ballot initiatives. Since the Secretary of State is a political appointee and the oversight is done at their discretion, this will give the Republican Secretary of State the power to decide what cities put on ballot initiatives. It removes local control and prevents cities from offering ballot initiatives its citizens favor. Here is the clip regarding SB 221:
This is only the tip of the iceberg.
The bills proposed by Bettencourt are just a small part of a more significant wave of voter suppression bills being proposed in Texas. Hundreds of other Republican-sponsored bills have been filed in the state legislature, which seeks to restrict access to voting, especially for marginalized communities. These bills are being justified under the guise of preventing voter fraud, but in reality, they attempt to suppress the vote and maintain power for the ruling party.
All is not lost.
We have some fantastic Democrats in the Senate and the House who will fight these bills tooth and nail. If they are unsuccessful, Texas will be sued by multiple civil rights groups (as that always happens). And perhaps one day, the John Lewis Voting Act or similar measure will pass in Congress, reinstating Texans’ voting rights.
Until then, please get involved in civic engagement in any way possible. And your voice will be invaluable if you can get to Austin to testify against any of these bills.
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." - Martin Luther King Jr.