In Texas, GOP voting bills zero in on Democratic Houston

FILE  In this Nov. 3, 2020, file photo a car leaves a drive-thru voting site on Election Day in Houston. As Texas moves ahead with a push to tighten voting laws, Republican lawmakers have zeroed in on Houston and surrounding Harris County. The effort is one of the clearest examples of how the GOP's nationwide campaign to impose new voting restrictions can target Democrats, even as they insist the measures are not partisan. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
FILE In this Nov. 3, 2020, file photo a car leaves a drive-thru voting site on Election Day in Houston. As Texas moves ahead with a push to tighten voting laws, Republican lawmakers have zeroed in on Houston and surrounding Harris County. The effort is one of the clearest examples of how the GOP's nationwide campaign to impose new voting restrictions can target Democrats, even as they insist the measures are not partisan. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

AUSTIN, Texas – The nation’s next big voting battle underway in Texas would outlaw 24-hour polling places, drive-thru voting and make it a crime for elections officials to mail unsolicited absentee ballot applications.

Put another way: Everything Houston — the state’s biggest Democratic stronghold — did to expand ballot access last year, when the threat of the coronavirus made voting in-person more hazardous.

Amid a GOP-led campaign to tighten voting laws, Republican lawmakers in in Texas have been unusually explicit in zeroing in on Houston and surrounding Harris County as they push to tighten the state's voting laws. One of the country's largest and most racially diverse counties, Harris rolled out new ways to vote in 2020 on a scale like nowhere else in Texas. Although there is no evidence of fraud resulting from votes cast from cars or in the dead of night, Republicans are determined to prevent it from happening again.

The effort is one of the clearest examples of how the GOP’s nationwide campaign to tighten voting laws can target Democrats, even as they insist the measures are not partisan. With Americans increasingly sorted into liberal urban areas and conservative rural ones, geography can be an effective proxy for partisanship. Proposals tailored to cities or that take population into account are bound to have a greater impact on Democratic voters.

That’s likely the case in Georgia, where a new voting law prescribes the number absentee ballot drop boxes per county and uses a formula based on the number of registered voters or early voting sites. Election officials in the Atlanta area have said the change will slash the number of drop boxes available to their voters when compared to 2020 levels.

Texas is the biggest state where Republicans have vowed to make voting changes since Donald Trump’s false claims that fraud cost him the 2020 election. A sweeping package known as House Bill 6 that would tighten voting rules is awaiting a full vote, and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott supports the efforts.

Included in the state House bill are measures that would grant partisan poll watchers wider latitude and make it a felony for an elections officer to send mail-voting applications to households that didn't request them, as Harris County tried to do because of the pandemic. It also contains elements similar to a state Senate bill that passed its first key vote earlier this month.

The apparent targeting of Harris County, where 44% of the nearly 5 million residents are Latino and 20% are Black, is seen by opponents as evidence that Republicans are trying to suppress minority turnout in Democratic strongholds. Republicans have angrily rejected those accusations, saying the measures would only rein in powers that county leaders never had in the first place.