The Texas House erupted Thursday into a partisan showdown over voting rights when the chamber’s Republicans muscled through a measure they argue will help crack down on mail-in voter fraud. Tensions flared on House floor for more than three hours as Democrats fought Republicans over a measure to criminalize “ballot harvesting” of mail-in votes, a process in which a group or an individual collects and mails completed ballots for other people. House Bill 148 by Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, takes aim at the practice by capping the number of ballots an individual can mail in any election to 10. Republicans argued that the mail-in voting system is rampant with fraud in part because of ballot harvesters.
But Democrats shot back that those generally seeking help to mail a ballot are often the state’s most needy — the disabled or elderly who can’t make it to a mail box. And slapping a criminal penalty on folks lending a helping hand, they argued, is sure to result in fewer votes being cast.
“It’s a terrible bill because it chills voters’ rights,” said state Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass.
The House tentatively passed the bill 86-41, almost entirely along party lines. It still needs to clear a final vote before being sent to the Senate.
Thursday’s debate over the ballot harvesting measure rekindled tensions in the House over voting rights that hit a crescendo in sessions past when the Legislature was considering Voter ID measures. Though decidedly less toxic, HB 148 stoked fears, nonetheless, among Democrats that the GOP was using another voter fraud argument to potentially limit who casts a ballot.