A draft of the bill was circulated Saturday around the state's House and Senate. The legislature is expected to be sent to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's desk soon.
Bill 7 began as two separate bills: one in the House and one in the Senate. While both aimed to deal with election integrity, the methods suggested by each varied. Following weeks of negotiations, the two chambers have compromised.
The bill would curtail the use of drop boxes, would ban drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting, and would require voters to request absentee ballots rather than allowing election officials to send applications to all voters. Early voting hours would also be set from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Allegations of voter fraud spread like wildfire through right-wing circles during the 2020 election when mail-in voting was normalized by the COVID-19 pandemic. Republican leaders have pushed for more stringent voter requirements since.
According to the Texas Tribune, the measures proposed in Texas' Bill 7 include " [making] it a state jail felony for local officials to proactively send mail-in ballot applications to voters who did not request them," prohibiting counties "from using public funds 'to facilitate' the unsolicited distribution of ballot applications by third parties," and requiring voters who request a ballot to "provide their driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number." In regards to the last point, "Voters will also be required to include that information on the return envelopes containing their ballots for their votes to be counted."
Bill 7 also expands the rights of "partisan poll-watchers," people who want to observe for themselves what goes on inside polling places. The bill "would entitle them to be 'near enough to see and hear' the election activity," giving them "'free movement' within a polling place, except for being present at a voting station when a voter is filling out a ballot."
Democrats on the committee claimed that they have not been able to view the final draft and do not know what was included in it. Progressives combatting stricter policies allege that such legislation disproportionately impact voters of color.
President Joe Biden called the new Texas voting overhaul finalized by state Republicans an "assault on democracy," arguing that "we should be making it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to vote."
"It's part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year—and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans," Biden said via press statement Saturday. "It's wrong and un-American."