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Texas Senate approves SB7, changes could impact future voting

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On Thursday, the Texas Senate signed off on Senate Bill 7, which would limit the hours available for early voting and some curbside voting, prohibit drive-thru voting and expand the ability of poll watchers to enter and film election sites.

Republicans across the state largely support the measure, while Democrats are opposing it, saying the bill, dressed as election integrity, is actually aimed at keeping people from voting. 

"There are some things that I think are good," Cameron County Elections Administrator Remi Garza said about the proposed bill. "Because they provide better information for voters as they go through the ballot by mail process, but then there's also some things in there that could procedurally be difficult for individuals to comply with."

The coronavirus pandemic led the country to expand curbside voting as a way to social distance, Garza said.

"Had we not offered that expanded service, I think a lot of people would have not participated in that last election," Garza said. "That's not something we want to see. We want to encourage people to vote."

Under the proposed bill, counties will need to make sure voting sites are not curbside-only, they must be tied to a walk-in poll site, according to Garza.

He said another change would also impact voters who qualify to vote by mail. Usually, those people receive a notice every year notifying them that they have to renew their ballot by mail.

Under SB7, Garza says that may not be possible.

“They may be expecting a ballot for a March election or a May election and that ballot isn't going to come,” Garza said. "By the time they realize their application isn't in effect, they may miss the deadline to apply for the ballot by mail."

The debate in the legislature is set to continue. Republicans say they're correcting oversteps from the last election.

"There were several things during the last election that did not sit well with me,” Hidalgo County Republican Chair Adrienne Pena Garza said. "And one of those things was sending the application by mail without someone requesting it."

Under the proposed bill, officials would no longer be able to send out unsolicited ballots.

Democrats, like Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, say that will especially deter Hispanic and lack people from voting. 

But before Gov. Greg Abbott signs the bill, it needs to be approved by the House, and the language could end up changing during that process. 

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