Texas Republicans propose a Florida-style election police force as it tees up more changes to voting laws

Texas Republicans began laying the groundwork for a number of state level voting changes, including an election police force like the one Florida created prior to the 2022 midterm elections. GOP State Senators and Representatives have already prefiled 20 bills that will be seriously considered when the next legislative session begins in January. The proposed legislation falls into three categories: legislation that would impose harsher penalties for infractions; expand the state attorney general’s authority to prosecute election and voting crimes; and create a new law enforcement unit dedicated exclusively to enforcing and prosecuting election and voting crimes. The new bills have alarmed Texas Democrats and voting rights advocates across the country. Liz Avore, a senior policy adviser at Voting Rights Lab, said the proposed bills, “all kind of generally fit under the bucket of criminalizing voters and voting behavior, and just generally turn elections into crime scenes, where there is this presumption that there is some kind of widespread illegal conduct or activity, despite the fact that there is no evidence that’s the case.” Texas Democrats have also been active, pre-filing 42 bills, all of which, in various ways, aim to ease existing restrictions on voting and voter registration. However, most of the Democratic bills aren’t likely to succeed in the state, where Republicans hold both chambers of the Legislature as well as the governorship. The Republican legislation drawing the most attention are HB 549 and SB 220, which propose creating a system of state “election marshals,” who would investigate allegations of violations of election and voting laws, and file criminal charges when warranted. Voting rights advocates are especially alarmed by these two bills. Jasleen Singh, a counsel in the Democracy Program at the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, said that these bills are, “kinds of measures [used] by lawmakers as preventative of voter fraud, but with voter fraud being so rare, what they actually do, in chasing a problem that does not exist, is contribute to an atmosphere of fear, rather than trust, in our elections.”

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