A bill that would slash the number of days allowed for early voting is likely to be pulled after scathing testimony Monday from opponents who said the bill was discriminatory and retrogressive.
Harless initially said the measure was necessary to help elections administrators hire workers and volunteers, saying that a 12-day early-voting period as a possible deterrent.
But after testimony at Monday's House Elections Committee hearing, where critics slammed its intent as little more than an effort to make casting a ballot harder for everyone, Harless said she would not ask the committee for a vote.
“This bill wasn’t about voter suppression, it was not about limiting access to the polls,” she said. “I will be happy to pull the bill down. I think it’s perfect for an interim study.”
Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, said the bill would move Texas backward by limiting the number of voting days available and by creating longer lines on days when voting is permitted. She added that increased wait times would drive potential voters away.
“The bill lacks a rational basis in election administration and will reduce voter confidence in Texas,” she testified.
The Texas chapter of the NAACP, the League of Women’s Voters, the Texas Democratic Party, the Tarrant County Elections Office, the Dallas County Elections Office, Disability Rights Texas and the Texas AFL-CIO also testified against the measure.
But B.R. “Skipper” Wallace, the chairman of the Texas Republican County Chairmen’s Association, said the bill was a good-faith effort to motivate Texans to plan better.
“There is no magic number" for what the number of voting days should be, he said. "I don’t know that one week [for early voting] is a magic number. Taxpayers pay “an extraordinary amount of money to wait to the last minute. Voters have to take some responsibility."
Also supporting the measure was Erin Anderson with True the Vote, a Houston-based conservative watchdog group that seeks, among other things, to crack down on voter fraud and increase participation at polling stations.
Several citizens “want to get involved in the process, but two weeks discourages them to do so,” Anderson said. “Seniors, who are some or the most reliable poll workers find the full 12 days … in a row to be too demanding.”
But state Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston, was critical of the effort.
“Let’s get the elephant out of the room,” he told Anderson, adding that in 2008 the majority of Hispanics and Latinos voted for President Obama. “Let’s get down to what this is really about. It’s about suppression.”
Others were amenable to changing the bill from its current form. Ed Johnson with the Harris County clerk’s office testified for the bill, but he said he’d like to see it amended to leave presidential elections unaffected. All other elections, he said, require far too much work and money for such a dismal turnout.
If the bill passed, Texas would have been home to one of the most limited early voting periods in the country, according to attorney Michael Li, who runs the website Texas Redistricting. Maryland allows six days, while Georgia and Louisiana allow for five days of early voting, Li wrote on Monday. Voters in Oklahoma are limited to three days. Li also wrote that in more than half of Texas’ 15 largest counties, early voting exceeds 40 percent of all ballots cast. In her testimony, Perales said that early voting during the November 2008 election accounted for 62 percent of the ballots cast, up from 39 percent in 2000.
After the hearing Harless said the opposition came as a complete shock. Had the opponents “bothered to pick up a phone” and call her office, she would have not wasted the committee’s time, she said.