Voting rights groups in Texas are asking state lawmakers to accommodate remote public input as they consider sweeping voting legislation this week.
On Monday, a coalition of advocacy groups — including Disability Rights Texas, League of Women Voters of Texas, Texas NAACP, Mi Familia Vota, MOVE Texas Action Fund and the Texas Civil Rights Project — sent a letter to leaders of the House elections committee ahead of a hearing Thursday for House Bill 6.
In the letter, the groups say “HB 6 is the most complicated and consequential piece of election legislation that the Committee has considered in many years, making it essential that the Committee hear directly from representatives of the groups most affected by the bill: voters with disabilities, voters of color, Texans who regularly use vote by mail,” which includes people with medical conditions.
“Because the pandemic has created unique barriers to public, in-person testimony by these groups,” advocates wrote, “we therefore request that the Committee invite virtual testimony from these groups at the March 25 hearing.”
Gary Bledsoe, the president of the Texas NAACP, said not allowing for virtual testimony during the pandemic puts voters in a tough spot. He said the Legislature is also forcing people to show up physically without enforcing mask rules.
“I think that those things are really intimidating,” he told KUT. “So, I think that the rules have been designed in a way to limit public input by and large.”
House Bill 6 is one of two sweeping voting bills that are priority legislation for Republican leaders. Among other things, HB 6 expands the role of “poll watchers” in Texas elections. It creates a new set of criminal offenses and penalties related to voting, as well as changes how the state investigates and litigates election issues. HB 6 also limits the ways in which local election administrators can give eligible voters mail ballots.
“Given the intended scope and ambition of HB 6, it is vital that the Committee hear testimony from those who would be most directly affected by this bill,” the groups wrote. “But the COVID-19 pandemic makes in-person, public testimony less accessible to individuals with disabilities, including Texans over 65 and those at high risk of deadly or severe consequences from exposure to the coronavirus.”