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Texas This Week: League of Women Voters Texas discusses 'election integrity' bills

This week, the governor held a news conference to support a group of bills that he says will enhance "election integrity." But critics say the bills suppress voters.

AUSTIN, Texas — In this week's edition of Texas This Week, we discuss the political fights under the dome, major resignations and the ballooning crisis at the border. Plus, KVUE Political Anchor Ashley Goudeau speaks out about Austin Public Health's vaccination process.

Three things to know in Texas politics

The number of migrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border is surging. The U.S. is bracing for the largest wave of migrants in the last 20 years. ABC News reports unaccompanied migrant children make up more than 50% of the people in border patrol custody, and thousands of them will temporarily stay in Texas. 

On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott visited the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas, where thousands of unaccompanied teenage boys will stay. Abbott said President Joe Biden's policies are enticing children to make the dangerous journey across the border, creating a crisis in Texas.

RELATED: Gov. Abbott addresses border crisis as Dallas convention center opens to house unaccompanied minors

The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), the agency charged with overseeing the state's power grid, has no leadership. Sole commissioner Arthur D'Andrea resigned this week at the request of the governor. 

The move came hours after Texas Monthly released an article detailing a conversation D'Andrea had with investors who profited from the skyrocketing price of energy during last month's winter storms – a price that was set by the PUC and kept at the highest level even after the worst of the storms had passed. On the call, D'Andrea reportedly assured investors he would throw his weight behind not retroactively repricing.

RELATED: Final member of Public Utilities Commission resigns, leaving board vacant

The repricing of energy is creating a major rift between the leaders of the Texas House and Senate. On Monday, the Senate suspended numerous rules to file, vote out of committee and then approve Senate Bill 2142 with bipartisan support. It orders the PUC and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to reverse billions of dollars in charges, some of which were passed on to Texans and forced power companies to file for bankruptcy. 

After the vote, the members were encouraged and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick praised the move, saying this is the right thing to do. But the high didn't last long. Speaker of the House Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) didn't give the bill a warm reception and instead said repricing would be "extraordinary government intervention into the free market." 

Patrick isn't letting it go that easy though. He's calling on Abbott to step in and use executive power. 

   

Grace Chimene on election integrity bills

We are about halfway through the Legislative Session so things really picked up this week. The waiting period to take votes in the chambers is over and committee hearings went into overdrive. 

Gov. Greg Abbott started the week by throwing his support behind a group of bills that he says will increase "election integrity." But those bills are getting a lot of pushback. Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters Texas, joined Ashley Goudeau to talk about why that is.

Ashley Goudeau: For our viewers who may not be familiar with the organization, tell us what exactly is the League of Women Voters.

Grace Chimene: "The League of Women Voters, we, we are a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, the political organization that has been around for 100 years. We were formed when women first got the right to vote. So, it's been 101 years now and we are still active at the Texas Capitol. What we are mostly well known for is our voter's guide and encouraging everybody and helping people with getting out the vote and understanding our voting laws."

Goudeau: You know, when we look at what happened during 2020, in the election of 2020, it probably was one of the most controversial elections in recent history but also one of the most scrutinized. You had so many court hearings on what could and could not be done. You had so many votes counted and recounted. Some say it was one of the most transparent elections that we've seen in recent history, but it has sparked conversation about voter and 'election integrity.' When you hear that term, what are your thoughts in [the] context of the 2020 election?

Chimene: "When I hear that term, I think I wish they were talking about, 'Woo-hoo, we did a great job.' Because the secretary of state of Texas, during their interview at the Capitol, said we did a fantastic job. They had very few problems. Everything went well. Most of the voters were very satisfied with how they were able to vote and cast their ballot. It turned out to be a fantastic election. We had more people voting than ever before."

Goudeau: And yet, during his State of the State address, Gov. Greg Abbott made election integrity one of his emergency items. This is something he wants lawmakers to pass a whole slew of bills on. What are your thoughts about focusing on election integrity? Do you see a problem with Texas elections?  

Chimene: "I do not see that problem. And I don't – I know where he's coming from, but it doesn't seem like election integrity to me. It seems like voter suppression. The bills are – there are 400 voting and election bills that we are following. And I'm sure there is even more than that. Many of the bills are about suppressing the vote. They're about limiting when and how you're able to vote. They are about restricting your access to the polling place to a limited number of hours there. It's everything. Just think, instead of voter integrity, think, 'Oh, is that really restricting somebody's right to vote? Is it making it harder to vote? Is it limiting access to the polling place?' Because that's what most of these bills are about. I don't even want to use the word that he is using because I think it is wrong. I think you can't have election integrity without looking at that bill and saying, 'Is that really limiting access to fair and free elections here in Texas?'

RELATED: Gov. Abbott says election legislation needed to reduce potential voter fraud in Texas

Goudeau: So, I really want to hone in on a few of the bills that the governor highlighted. He had a news conference earlier this week and he talked about that there were some processes in counties across Texas where he believed that elected officials encouraged voter fraud through abuse of mail-in ballots and through drive-thru voting. So, we're going to talk about that. But first, let's talk about this, this voter fraud. Is this something that we're seeing widespread cases of across the state in Texas? 

Chimene: "No, absolutely not. And so, that is another word that is thrown around easily. When somebody said that word, they really mean, 'Oh, they made it easier to vote. They allowed people to have a[n] application to vote by mail sent to them.' Well, people didn't have printers. People didn't have a way to get around because transportation was decreased. People – libraries were closed. There was no place to go get printing done. And so, the Harris County election folks sent a copy of the vote-by-mail application. That sounds like a good thing to me. It helps voters. Voters who didn't need it didn't fill it out, they just threw it away. And that is a good thing. That is not what the governor is saying it is."

Goudeau: We saw a lot of people during this pandemic use drive-thru voting. This was something new that came out in certain Texas counties where you just kind of drove to your polling location and they brought it out to you. You didn't have to get out of your car in the pandemic. But that is something that the governor is not a fan of. 

Chimene: "It isn't that interesting because you would think that all politicians would support easy and fair access to the voting place and if that, it allows voters to feel more comfortable to drive in their car up, they're following this same exact process to vote as they would if they got out of the car and walked inside to the polling place. The same process. Even the poll watchers were allowed to be there to watch the process, to make sure everything was there at the polling site. The only difference was they were in their car. They were safe. This was a pandemic. It was – it was a very scary time. People didn't want to be around each other and be exposed to COVID."  

RELATED: Texas attorney general advises Republican state leaders to ensure election laws are 'tightened'

Goudeau: I would imagine that of the 400-plus bills you all are watching, some of them are bills that you guys are backing, that you think are good ideas that would help expand voter access. Tell us about some of them.  

Chimene: "Yes, they are some good ones. We, we like it when, say, curbside voting – so that voters who have disabilities want to curbside vote, we would love for there to be a sign put up to make the process easier for curbside voting. So, we love that. We also like part of some of these other bills, ones that allow you to track your vote-by-mail ballot so you could see where your application is and where your ballot is and when it arrives at the county election office. Those are good things. Those are things that help voter integrity. They help voters know where their ballot is so that they know their votes are counted. Those are the type of bills that we're looking forward to passing at the Capitol."

The Last Word

In this week's The Last Word, Ashley discusses the complicated distribution of COVID-19 vaccines by Austin Public Health that is leaving some of the most vulnerable in the community unvaccinated.

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