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Politics

Lawmakers Repeal Nursing Home Voter Fraud Bill Before It Goes Into Law

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Todd Wiseman
/
Texas Tribune

The goal of a special legislative session is usually for Texas lawmakers to get stuff done that they didn’t, or couldn’t, during the regular session.

But, during the 30-day session ending this week, though, lawmakers worked to undo something they passed just a few months prior: a bipartisan effort to curb mail-in ballot fraud in nursing homes.

State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, says she and Republicans in the Texas Legislature were mostly on the same page about tackling this problem at the outset of the regular session.

“There was an overriding goal, which was to produce legislation that would actually protect our seniors who are more vulnerable and susceptible to voter fraud abuse of the mail-in type,” she said.

In a bipartisan effort, lawmakers passed a bill that expanded in-person voting to folks bound to nursing homes. It created a process for collecting absentee ballots in some cases. In other cases, it made nursing homes and assisted living facilities temporary polling places during early voting.

The law was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott and was set to go into effect next month, but things changed.

“I was just as surprised as anyone else that the political winds had shifted,” Israel said.

After Gov. Abbott called the special legislative session, members of the Texas Association of Election Administrators began warning lawmakers about the nursing home bill.

“When we talked to them in the special session, they had regrets,” said Chris Davis, the elections administrator in Williamson County, who was among those reaching out to lawmakers. “They didn’t realize the effects and the consequences, but by then it had been too late. It had been passed to the governor. The governor had signed it into law.”

Davis has a long list of concerns. The nursing home bill was created to keep people from manipulating the votes of these elderly folks, but he says it doesn’t solve that problem. In fact, he argues the bill had the potential to make things worse.

“The opportunity for more fraud and the absolute reduction in privacy that these voters deserve and have a right for under mail balloting laws in Texas,” he said. “Those were out two biggest issues that affected the voter and we tried to express that.”

Last week, lawmakers rolled a repeal of that law into another bill aimed at tackling mail-in ballot fraud in general. That bill is now headed to the governor’s desk.

Israel says she originally wanted the nursing home law to start as pilot project.

“Perhaps with a small, a medium and a large county to see how it would work,” Israel said. “But when you are in the minority party, you don’t get to choose those kinds of vehicles or opportunities.”

Israel says there is still a belief in both parties that something should be done about mail-in ballot fraud in nursing homes. She also points out that pilot program can still happen, but it’s up to the Secretary of State’s office. 

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