Both the Texas Senate and House are considering bills this legislative session that would affect voters with disabilities. The bill authors for Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6 say their legislation is intended to protect the integrity and security of elections, but advocacy groups, including The Arc of Texas, are opposed to provisions in both bills that would create barriers for Texans with disabilities to participate in the democratic process.
Senate Bill 7 (SB 7) initially included a provision that would require Texans who request mail-in ballots due to a disability to prove their disability through a doctor’s note. There were no additional requirements added to other voters who could qualify for mail-in ballots, such as Texans age 65 and older and those who would not be in their county of residence during the election. The Arc of Texas opposed this provision because it discriminates against Texans with disabilities and would force them to pay for a doctor’s visit to prove they have a right to vote. Thanks to advocacy from you and other disability rights advocates, this provision was removed from SB 7 by an amendment. Despite this victory, there are remaining problematic provisions within that would impede on Texans’ voting rights. SB 7 passed the Senate floor and will move to the House Elections Committee for a vote.
House Bill 6 (HB 6) threatens Texas voters with disabilities in other ways. Through testimony provided by experts at the Texas House Elections Committee, it was made clear that poll watchers do not and would not receive any special training that would allow them to discern appropriate voting booth interactions. Some voters with disabilities use an assister to vote, and poll watchers could misconstrue appropriate interactions such as cuing or prompting as illegal interference. Plus, HB 6 requires assisters to sign documentation explaining why they are serving as an assister and testify to the voter’s reason for needing one. This is an unnecessary burden on assisters, which may lead to voters with disabilities not having appropriate support at the polls or worse, not having the opportunity to vote at all. HB 6 was left in committee after hours of testimony that ended in the early morning hours of Friday, April 2.
We continue to monitor these bills and their potential effects on Texans with disabilities. If you’d like to see the other bills we are tracking, go to thearcoftexas.org/bills for more information.