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Despite ceaseless Republican assertions that Texas' voting rules must be tightened to prevent electoral fraud, only a small slice of the state's registered voters believe ineligible voters often cast ballots in Texas elections, according to the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
In a June UT/TT poll, just 19% of voters indicated they think ineligible people frequently cast ballots. A bulk of voters — 42% — believe ineligible votes are rarely or never cast. Even among Republicans, a minority of voters — 31% — believe ineligible votes are frequently cast.
Texas lawmakers are poised for a special legislative session to again take up new voting restrictions after Democrats staged a dramatic walkout to scuttle the changes during this spring's regular session.
In Texas, and nationally, GOP efforts to enact new voting restrictions have been largely built on claims that elections must be safeguarded from fraudulent votes, even though there is no evidence of widespread fraud. Former President Donald Trump’s false assertions that the 2020 election was undermined by fraud have fueled those claims, but Texas Republicans have long leaned on the unsubstantiated specter of voting irregularities to justify some of the strictest voting rules in the country.
During the regular legislative session that wrapped up in May, Republican lawmakers attempted to reframe their legislative proposals by offering that even one instance of fraud undermines the voice of a legitimate voter.
“At some point, I think Republicans have run into the lack of evidence … and so they have gone to this ‘anything is a taint’,” said James Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. With 25% of voters believing ineligible people sometimes vote in elections, he said Republican leaders have “something to work with” as they adjust their messaging.
“The Republican argument has had to make adjustments as they run into, frankly, evidentiary problems and dissonance caused by a lack of evidence for some of their response, so that may be part of the explanation here,” Henson said.
An even smaller share of voters (14%) said they believed voters frequently break election laws knowingly. More Republicans said voters rarely (21%) or never (2%) violate the law than those who believe voters do so frequently (20%).
Earlier this year, Texas Republicans failed to pass their priority voting bill that would have brought sweeping changes to elections by restricting early voting hours, further tightening voting by mail rules and enhancing the authority of partisan poll watchers. Other provisions in the wide-ranging bill would have created new offenses or heightened penalties for local election officials and those who assist voters in casting their ballots.
After months of opposition by civil rights groups and voting rights advocates, Democrats temporarily doomed the legislation, Senate Bill 7, with an 11th hour walk-out to break quorum and prevent a final vote on the bill before a fatal deadline.
Overall, 38% of voters approve of how state leaders and the Legislature have handled election and voting laws in Texas, while 40% disapprove.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has already set July 8 as the start date for legislative overtime during which the proposals contained in SB 7 will be back under consideration. With Republicans controlling both legislative chambers, the legislation faces few barriers to becoming law.
Heading into that special legislative session, 35% of registered voters say they would make voting rules more strict, while 29% would leave them as is and 26% would loosen them. Among Republicans, a large majority of voters (60%) want the rules to be more strict. A majority of Democrats (54%) want less strict rules. Almost the same share of both Republicans (30%) and Democrats (29%) would maintain the status quo.
Republicans’ messaging shift speaks to “where their voters are,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
“They want a stricter system. The underlying rationale and lack of data is kind of a problem, but ultimately if [voters] think that somebody is doing this from time to time and that’s enough of a reason, then you can proceed with stricter voting laws,” Blank said.
There’s been hardly any change in recent years in the majority of Texas voters (51%) who don’t believe the state’s election system discriminates against people of color. There are sharp partisan differences on that issue — 87% of Republicans believe the system isn’t discriminatory while 77% of Democrats believe otherwise.
That’s despite multiple federal court rulings that found state lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color by working to dilute the power of their votes. Legal interventions have led to revisions to the state’s political maps and new voting rules, including its strict voter ID law that was slightly eased as a result of a lawsuit over the way it discriminated against Hispanic and Black voters who were less likely to have the one of the IDs needed to cast a ballot.
Asking whether the state’s election system discriminates against people of color depends on whether you are talking to Hispanic voters, who are split, Black voters, a majority of whom (63%) say it is discriminatory, and white voters, who say the opposite is true at the same exact rate.
The most recent legislative proposals have also been dogged by concerns from advocates and civil rights organizations with histories of fighting laws that could harm voters of color who have repeatedly warned lawmakers that SB 7 would raise new barriers to the ballot for marginalized voters, including voters of color and voters with disabilities, and that it likely violates federal safeguards for those voters.
The legislation expected to be passed by the Legislature this summer is surely to end up in federal court.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from June 10-21 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points.
Disclosure: University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.