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Republican Lawmaker Claims Voting Changes Will Protect Seniors And Other Vulnerable Voters From Fraud

The House chamber's vote tally board, listing state representatives by name, and colored lights incidating their votes.
Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
Texas State House of Representatives at the start of the 2021 Special Legislative Session

From Texas Standard:

As legislative proceedings for the rest of this special session remain in limbo after most Democrats left the state in protest, Republican House lawmakers are scrambling to figure out if there is any possible way to reach the quorum needed to move forward with the session. Meanwhile, the Texas Senate has approved Republican-backed voting legislation, House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1.

Jacey Jetton, a Republican state representative from Sugar Land, told Texas Standard that Democrats' walkout is disappointing.

"We're elected to come and engage in debate and vote on bills, and I think that's what our voters expect," Jetton said. "And as colleagues, that's what we expect from our colleagues, and we have a certain degree of respect for each other here in the Texas House."

Jetton argues the voting measures proposed by Republicans, which place new limits on voting by mail, give more access to partisan poll watchers and prevent local election officials from sending unsolicited vote-by-mail applications to potential voters, do not constitute voter suppression, as Democrats claim. He cites a study of the 2000 and 2002 election that informed the proposals that address mail-ballot harvesting and voter assistance fraud. He says the changes would protect Texas voters.

"We also have 254 counties throughout the state of Texas," he said. "I think it's really important that we have consistency and predictability for voters across the state so that we can have more habitual voters participate in our election cycle. It is all about equal and fair access for every voter across the state of Texas."

Though the number of voter fraud convictions in the state is low, Jetton says the threat of fraud warrants legislative action.

"I think if you look at the number of complaints that are still sitting at the attorney general's office, I think that points at some problem," he said. "And I think when you talk to the attorney general's office, to the prosecutors that have to prosecute voter fraud, they'll tell you that the statutes currently in place don't allow for them to properly go after voter fraud."

Jetton says he and other Republicans want to prevent the paid collection of ballots for fraudulent purposes, and to protect voters who need assistance at the polling place from what he claims is having their vote "taken away" by an unscrupulous third party.

Jetton says seniors, people living in low-income areas and members of minority communities are most affected by the risk of ballot harvesting or voter assistance fraud.

"I think it is important to note that there's not a single one of their votes that should be compromised," he said. "We should protect every one of their votes."

In addition to the voting bill, Jetton says Republicans want to pass other legislation they feel will help Texans, including a "thirteenth check" for retired teachers – in other words, an increase of their annual benefits. He also cited an effort to fix the state's foster care system – an issue that lawmakers have been struggling to address since a federal judge declared the system "broken."

"There are other issues that we are attempting to work on this special session that won't get addressed because of all the focus on this one election bill," Jetton said.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.