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Yes, the Texas Senate's election bill SB7 changes early voting rules
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stood before reporters during a Tuesday morning news conference in which he excoriated Democrats and many in the media for spreading "lies" about Senate Bill 7, a measure that would restrict voting access in the state.
"The left, the Democrats, many in the media, some in this room, across the state, across the country, have changed the word sadly from ‘voter security’ to ‘voter suppression' or ‘voter restriction,’" Patrick, a Republican, said angrily. "Senate Bill 7 is about voter security not about voter suppression, and I’m tired of lies and the nest of liars who continue to repeat them."
Before explaining how the bill would amend the state election code, Patrick said something that he would repeat during the 35-minute press conference.
"Nothing has changed in the election code (under S.B. 7) regarding early voting. Nothing has changed," he said.
S.B. 7 was passed along party lines by the Texas Senate last week and is one of two voting bills being considered by the Legislature. Similar to voting bills in Georgia and other states, SB 7 is designed to diminish local control over elections.
The bill would prohibit local election administrators from extending early voting hours and operating drive-thru voting centers. It also would bar election officials from sending out mail-in ballot applications without a voter’s request and, among other things, gives partisan poll watchers more access to polling locations during voting hours.
Patrick said the measures are intended to restore people’s trust in American democracy following the 2020 presidential election. Patrick has perpetuated former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was plagued by voter fraud. In November, the lieutenant governor offered $1 million in rewards to anyone who provided information leading to an arrest and conviction for voter fraud. (When asked by a reporter Tuesday if he would be rewarding Pennsylvania Lt. Governor John Fetterman, who says he provided Patrick with two cases of Trump voters casting ballots in the name of their deceased mothers, Patrick said, "I didn’t come here to take stupid questions from the media.")
"People in America have lost faith in their elections," he said. "We have to resolve that issue in this country and in this state. That’s why SB 7 is needed."
For this fact-check we focus on Patrick’s first claim — that S.B. 7 wouldn't change anything in the election code regarding early voting. Let’s look at how the bill would affect early voting.
Patrick said during the news conference that many elements of the bill are targeted toward Harris County. Election officials in the state’s largest county opened eight 24-hour polling centers during a portion of the early voting period in areas with high numbers of overnight workers, near medical centers and the ship channel. The county also opened drive-thru voting locations during early voting to ease coronavirus concerns. Nearly 145,000 Texans availed themselves of these new voting options during the general election, which helped the county surpass its all-time record for number of votes cast before the early voting period was over.
Patrick said that county officials had come up with these methods "out of thin air" and that they weren't explicitly allowed by state law. County officials counter that nothing in the law precluded 24-hour voting or drive-thru locations, and several GOP challenges last year to the expanded voting methods were unsuccessful.
"24-hour early voting and drive-thru early voting were not included in the Election Code before Harris County decided to use them anyway. ... So, nothing has changed," Patrick's spokesperson Steven Aranyi said.
If passed, S.B. 7 would codify Republicans' objections to drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting into the state election code. To Roxanne Werner, deputy director of communications for Harris County Elections, that's an appreciable change.
"There are definitely a number of things that would change under SB7, particularly with early voting. Some of the more obvious things are the drive-thru locations and the lack of extended early voting hours," Werner said. "There are several things in SB 7 that relate to early voting, so I'm surprised to hear (Patrick’s) particular statement."
For instance, the bill’s text would eliminate 24-hour voting by adding language to the election code that requires early voting to be conducted "for a period of at least nine hours, except that voting may not be conducted earlier than 6 a.m. or later than 9 p.m."
And it would prohibit drive-thru voting — during the early voting period or on election day — by adding language that says "no voter may cast a vote from inside a motor vehicle."
Robert Stein, a Rice University political scientist who has worked with and studied Harris County’s election system, said the changes proposed in S.B. 7 are obvious.
"What do you mean nothing changed?" Stein said, responding to Patrick’s claim. "Then why are you writing SB 7? You're changing the law so as to prevent someone from doing something they have been doing in the past."
David Becker, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research, agrees and notes that SB 7 would make Texas one of the most restrictive voting states in the nation. Becker said that SB 7 would "concentrate more voting to a single day" by disincentivizing early voting and mail-in voting.
"I think it's really hard to characterize S.B. 7 as not severely limiting early voting given that early voting was allowed to proceed under Texas law in a way that was much more expansive," Becker said.
All of the changes packaged in S.B. 7 taken together, the overall effect of the bill, as in bills in other states, is the removal of authority from local election officials, Becker said.
"The fact is that the election code, as every election code does, leaves areas for local government to manage their elections, and there was nothing in the code before that said you couldn't do drive-thru voting, that said you couldn't do 24/7 voting, that said you couldn't do temporary buildings for early voting," he said. "That has absolutely changed."
Patrick said during a press conference that "nothing has changed in the election code (under S.B. 7) regarding early voting."
S.B. 7 makes numerous changes to the state’s election code, many of which pertain to the means through which people can vote early. The major changes to early voting include limiting early voting hours and limiting the kinds of sites where people can vote early.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire!
KETK-TV, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick defends Texas Senate Bill 7 for improving election security, April 6, 2021
Houston Chronicle, Harris County breaks all-time voter turnout record, surpassing 2016 election, Oct. 29, 2020
LegiScan, Bill Text: TX SB7
Danpatrick.org, Patrick Offers Up to $1 Million in Rewards for Voter Fraud Whistleblowers & Tipsters, Nov. 10, 2020
Texas Tribune, Harris County tried to make voting easier during the pandemic. Texas Republicans fought every step of the way, Oct. 15, 2020
Interview with Roxanne Werner, deputy director of communications for Harris County Elections, April 6, 2021
Interview with Robert Stein, Lena Gohlman Fox Professor of Political Science at Rice University, April 7, 2021
Interview with David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, April 7, 2021
Email with Steven Aranyi, press secretary for the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, April 8, 2021
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Yes, the Texas Senate's election bill SB7 changes early voting rules
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