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After increase in 2020 turnout, Texas Republicans attempt to restrict voting laws

The current fight over voting access happening on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures will determine how Americans choose their leaders for decades to come. Yamiche Alcindor reports on Texas, where Republican lawmakers are currently working to pass a new and restrictive elections bill.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The current fight over voting access happening on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures will determine how Americans choose our leaders for decades to come.

    Yamiche Alcindor has this report on Texas, where Republican lawmakers are currently working to pass a new restrictive elections bill.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Texas, the latest battleground in a nationwide GOP effort to pass new laws restricting voting access. The push comes as many in the party continue to falsely claim that the 2020 election was rigged.

  • Gov. Greg Abbott:

    The integrity of elections in 2020 were questioned right here in Harris County.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott and Republicans who control the state legislature say changes are needed to ensure election security.

    They're gearing up to pass new legislation that, if signed into law, will lead to sweeping changes for how Texans can vote. It especially affects diverse, urban counties that expanded voting options amid the pandemic.

  • Greg Abbott:

    We must pass laws to prevent election officials from jeopardizing the election process.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Democrats and some Texas-based businesses, including American Airlines and Dell Technologies, are opposing the bills.

  • Woman:

    Fight until the fight is no longer needed.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Meanwhile, young activists in Texas are trying to push back.

    One of them is 25-year-old Ofelia Alonso from the organization Texas Rising. She drove six hours from her home in Brownsville, near the Mexico border, to Austin to speak out.

  • Ofelia Alonso:

    It's like telling them, like, your voter participation was so good that you're getting punished for it.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The GOP legislation follows record high early vote turnout last year in large metro areas like Houston. That was after election officials added measures to make voting easier, including 24-hour and drive-through voting.

    Legislation passed by the state Senate would outlaw those expanded voting options; 28-year-old Tiara Cooper, an organizer with the nonpartisan group Faith in Texas, helps register voters in her community of South Dallas. It's an area where predominantly Black neighborhoods already lack resources for voting infrastructure and education.

  • Tiara Cooper:

    South Dallas cannot withstand another barrier.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As a formerly incarcerated Black woman, Cooper is concerned about the bills' enhanced criminal penalties for voting offenses.

  • Tiara Cooper:

    It's already hard, as a person of these communities, to be an active voter.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The legislation would make it a felony for election officials or organizers to send out unsolicited applications to vote by mail. At the same time, under the GOP bills, partisan poll watchers would get more access to polling places.

    The practice became a flash point in the aftermath of the 2020 elections. After former President Trump falsely claimed that the election was stolen from him, a number of poll watchers who were Trump supporters stormed elections facilities.

  • Protesters:

    Stop the count!

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Republicans say the legislation is in part about creating fairness in the voting system. They argue higher populated counties that tend to vote for Democrats shouldn't get more time to vote than rural counties that trend Republican. Alonso rejects that argument.

  • Ofelia Alonso:

    If the Republican intent for voter integrity and cohesion were true, they would create a system that was more accessible overall.

  • Man:

    I move passage for Senate Bill 7.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Republican State Senator Bryan Hughes co-authored one of the Texas bills known as Senate Bill 7.

    What do you say to some who think that this bill is based on a lie? And do you yourself think that 2020, the election, was fraudulent?

  • State Sen. Bryan Hughes:

    Texas elections in 2020 went much better than other states. You can look at the results here. We didn't have near the problems that a number of states had.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    So, do you believe the 2020 election was fair, that it was — that President Biden was legitimately elected?

  • Bryan Hughes:

    President Biden is the president. He did not win in Texas. President Trump won in Texas. And a lot of people say we're unhappy about the 2020 election in Texas. Republicans did great in Texas in the 2020 election.

    We held the Texas House, held the Texas Senate, held every seat in Congress. And so, if we were concerned about that, this wouldn't even be an issue. This is about making the system better. We do this every time the legislature meets.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The bills also limit the number and location of polling places in only a handful of counties in Texas with populations of at least one million people.

    What do you say to the criticism that, regardless of the intent of this law, that it will make it harder for some people, including people of color, Black people, disabled people, to vote?

  • Bryan Hughes:

    Well, so, I hear that generalization, but no one has shown me any evidence of it. This bill says that, in those urban counties, that the polling places have to be distributed evenly across the county.

    Now, that's just straight-up fairness based on where the voters live, regardless of their race, of their party, of their ethnic background, their religion.

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    What I'm worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It's sick.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Democrats, including President Biden, have spoken out against the Republican voting bills in Texas and across the country.

    Courtland Cox, a veteran civil rights activist, helped lead the fight for voting rights during the 1960s, especially across the South. Back then, he was an organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Cox says one of the most concerning trends among the GOP's current effort is an attempt to disqualify votes after they're cast.

  • Pres. Donald Trump:

    It's about ballots that poured in, and nobody but a few knew where they came from.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Like Trump's push to throw out tens of thousands of valid mail ballots in the 2020 election. Cox calls it voter nullification.

  • Courtland Cox:

    It's very clear, if we get around the voter suppression, at the end of the day, they're going to try to say that is not legal, this cannot stand, and we will do whatever it is to make sure that, if you win, we will nullify your votes.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    If the Texas legislation passes, organizers like Ofelia Alonso say they will have to pivot from protesting to helping voters navigate the changes to make sure their votes aren't thrown out.

  • Ofelia Alonso:

    I think it's going to take a huge push, collective push, from a lot of our partners, from a lot of folks here in Cameron County to really break down what these bills mean, what they're going To do, how that affects our work as voter registrars.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Texas Republicans still need to merge their House and Senate bills in the coming days. The final bill will then go to the governor, who is expected to sign it.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

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