The Republicans received the battle for the voting invoice, however the Houston Democrats warn that it’ll price them on the poll field

The battle over election restrictions in Texas this summer has always centered on one place: Houston.

After watching Harris County bluer for six years, the Texas Republicans used their electoral reform package to target the largest county in the state, where the GOP is losing more and more each election cycle. The bill, which Governor Greg Abbott will sign every day, now includes provisions addressed directly to Harris County without apology.

The end of the late night voting.

The end of the drive-through voting.

Ending the use of unmanned mailboxes to collect postal ballot papers.

Criminal charges against election officials who send unsolicited postal voting applications.

Only one of the 254 counties in Texas tried to do all of these things: Harris County.

“Well, I have news for Harris County: You are not the capital of Texas,” said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Republican who heads the Texas Senate, in April when he explained why the legislation was necessary.

But Democrats like Houston Senator Borris Miles said the Republicans had gone too far this time around.

At one point, Republicans were on the verge of eliminating the early polling stations in Fifth Ward and essentially eliminating the Souls to the Polls Sunday events, which are particularly popular with black voters.

“We won’t forget any of this,” Miles said of Harris County’s constant targeting. “You have no idea what you did. You woke a bear. “

Republicans across the state – even those of Houston roots – are already losing hard to Harris County, but now Miles said they would almost invite greater defeat as their actions become a call to arms for Democrats, especially voters of color. To the people in his community, Miles said, the new restrictions sound like an attempt to reverse the hard-won achievements civil rights activists made half a century ago.

“We’re not going to let our clock turn back the time hands,” he said.

With elections in over a year, there’s no telling whether the Democrats’ energy against the law will hold up and motivate voters, but the possibility of losing Harris County worse in 2022 would be a disaster for statewide Republicans.

Seven years and 500,000 new voters

State-wide Republican incumbents – like the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general – cannot afford to lose any more ground with Harris County voters.

As recently as 2014, all statewide Republicans, including Abbott, Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton, wore Harris County and cruised to victory nationwide.

Four years later, all three of Harris Counties, including Abbott and Patrick, who are rooted in the county, lost. Abbott began his law career in Houston, and Patrick was a television broadcaster, sports bar owner, and talk radio host before running for office.

And they all lost Harris so badly that they had the tightest election of their political careers against the severely underfunded Democrats. Patrick and Paxton received just 51 percent of the vote nationwide. Abbott won 56 percent.

A major reason for the shift is the demographic change of the county and increasing efforts to register voters. Since 2014, Harris County’s electorate has grown by more than 500,000 people – an increase of over 25 percent.

With all three of these statewide Republicans going to be re-elected next year, Miles said he was already confident given the trends to declare that regardless of who the Democratic challengers end up, they’ll lose Harris County even worse than last time.

Republicans insist that the electoral law was only aimed at giving all Texans confidence in the election results and that Harris County did not hold safe elections. While unable to prove widespread fraud, Republicans kept pointing out incidents of minor fraud that they wanted to eradicate and saying they could do it without affecting people’s choices.

“This breakthrough legislation makes it easier to vote and cheat,” said Patrick after the passage.

At the start of the pandemic, Harris County’s election officials pushed for new ways to enable people to vote without putting them in queues where they could contract the disease. They say drive-through voting, 24-hour voting, and promoting postal votes were all aimed at helping people vote in a pandemic.

“Many of these changes would never have happened without the pandemic,” said Odus Evbagharu, leader of the Harris County Democratic Party.

He said that instead of showing that understanding, Republicans across the country had turned the electoral law into a war against the most populous district in the state.

Republicans like State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said the county just went too far.

“Really, what Senate Bill 1 did was reset what a county took advantage of during COVID,” she said. “You have reached the Nth degree.”

Senator Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said that as a former electoral officer himself, he knew instantly that Harris County officials were breaking the law by sending postal votes to voters they never asked.

“I knew they were not following the electoral code and went way beyond it,” he said.

Chris Hollins, who was the Harris County Clerk at the time, argued that he was sending postal ballot papers to people who might qualify to vote by mail, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when some voters were wary of voting in person to visit.

The courts stopped Hollins, and now the electoral law Abbott is preparing for signature makes what Hollins did a crime.

Evbagharu said he and others in the party would do everything possible to ensure that Harris County voters remember that they have been the target of Republican electoral law all along.

“This will be a motivation for many voters,” said Evbagharu.

jeremy.wallace@chron.com

twitter.com/jeremyswallace

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