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League of Women Voters Testimony, House Elections Committee, April 1st

 | Published on 3/31/2021




TESTIMONY
LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF TEXAS
HOUSE ELECTIONS COMMITTEE
APRIL 1, 2021

I am Susan Schultz, Board member of the League of Women Voters of Texas, testifying
on behalf of the League in opposition to HB 6 and its committee substitute. I speak for
the many League members across Texas who are unable to appear before you today
because of the pandemic.

We oppose HB 6. The League is a nonpartisan organization whose mission is
empowering voters and defending democracy. We have 34 local leagues throughout
Texas and work with thousands of volunteers who provide essential information on voter
registration and voting. We work hard on our Voters Guide and Vote411 to empower
voters with the information they need to make informed choices. It’s hard to vote in
Texas. It takes an army of trained, dedicated election officials and volunteers to ensure
that all eligible voters can exercise their right to vote. Our democracy is stronger when
every eligible voter has the opportunity to safely cast a vote and have it count.

During the last election cycle, Texans all over the state benefited from more voting
opportunities, such as expansion of early voting, extended hours at the polling places,
and more options to return vote-by-mail ballots. These are the kinds of measures that
Texans want. Instead, HB 6 adds to the morass of our election laws by using broad and
confusing language, creating barriers to voting, and adding criminal offenses.

These provisions are of particular concern to the League:

HB 6 creates barriers to providing assistance to voters

HB 6 creates barriers to ensuring safe polling places by giving poll watchers more
authority and tying the hands of election officials. Poll watchers are appointed by
political parties or candidates to observe election activities and are not required to have
any election training.

  • In addition to general observation privileges, HB 6 adds that a poll watcher must
    be allowed to observe the hand-delivery of a vote-by-mail marked ballot. The poll
    watcher must be able to determine how the ballots are being delivered and how
    election officials are making decisions about the delivery of ballots. This
    language is overbroad and can put a poll watcher in direct conflict with an
    election official.
  • Furthermore, HB 6 restricts the authority of election judges to keep the peace by
    stating that poll watchers can only be removed for offenses related to election
    fraud. Voters and poll workers will not feel safe if poll watchers can harass and
    disturb the peace without recourse.


HB 6 creates barriers to access to applications to vote by mail. HB 6 makes it a criminal
offense for a the public official to:

  • distribute an unsolicited application to vote by mail, or
  • authorize the expenditure of public funds to facilitate third party distribution of an
    application to a person who did not request it.

 

This language is overbroad and confusing. Does HB 6 prohibit, among other
things, government websites, such as county websites and SOS website, from
posting applications to vote by mail?


HB 6 also makes it a felony for a public official to alter, waive, or suspend an election
standard, practice, or procedure unless authorized in the Code. Last election cycle,
many Texas voters would not have voted without the alterations and suspensions that
allowed for extended early voting and other voting options. A recent poll affirms that the
majority of Texas voters want extended early voting, increased number of polling places,
and necessary assistance returning ballots.

Finally, HB 6 is premised on the need to detect and punish fraud. Yet, 97% of Texas
voters reported a good experience voting last election, and a majority don’t believe that
significant voter fraud occurred. The Election Code already has plenty of safeguards
against fraud.

Reforms of our election laws should be directed at making voting simpler and safer for
the VOTER and those who administer the elections: election officials and poll workers.
Election officials are unsung heroes who spend untold hours ensuring that we have safe
and secure elections.

What we really need are reforms that

➢ Allow and expand a range of voting options, including extended early voting,
temporary polling places, and VBM for all;

➢ Work with USPS to provide realistic time frames for VBM ballot handling and
return procedures;

➢ Provide resources and guidelines for more sustained recruitment of poll workers;

➢ Provide training to combat intimidation and threats of violence against voters and
election officials;

➢ Promote more education and communications with voters about election
mechanics;

➢ Provide sufficient funding for cyber security in election administration.


The League looks forward to testifying in support of bills that we know have been filed
this session that support voters and respect our election officials.

A famous Texan once said:
“Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can
excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than
the duty we have to ensure that right.”
LBJ speech to Congress on March 15, 1965, The
American Promise.


That duty is ongoing. It is up to us as citizens, election officials, and legislators to
safeguard our voting rights.

For additional information, please contact: Cinde Weatherby, Voting Rights and Election Law Issue Chair, cindeweatherby@gmail.com, 512.560.1334.