Turns out there was.
In June, in a rare act of bipartisanship, Texas lawmakers passed a bill to overhaul the voting process for seniors in nursing homes, sending election officials in with absentee ballots for residents to fill out during the early voting period. The twin goals were to expand access to voting for thousands of seniors—no longer would they have to remember to request an absentee ballot ahead of time—and to crack down on ballot fraud in nursing homes, whose residents are uniquely vulnerable to it.
Gov. Greg Abbott (pictured) backed the bill, tweeting “seniors’ votes shouldn’t be stolen,” and quickly signed it.
It couldn’t last. This week, in a special legislative session, lawmakers repealed the measure, and Abbott signed the repeal bill on Friday.
Opponents of the law cited several reasons for the repeal. Rep. Craig Goldman, the Republican who led the repeal effort, said county election officials told him they didn’t have the resources to send representatives into nursing homes.
“It’s basically an unfunded mandate,” Goldman said on the House floor.
One county election director told an Austin-based NPR station that the biggest issues were that the law wouldn’t effectively stop fraud, and that it could compromise nursing home residents’ right to a secret ballot.
But Rep. Tom Oliverson, a Republican who had led the effort to pass the original law, offered a different reason for his party’s sudden flip-flop on the measure: the fact that Democrats supported it.
“It’s a sad commentary on politics in Texas,” Oliverson told The Texas Tribune. “People get nervous when they see the other side in favor of something, because they assume it gives them an advantage in elections.”
It’s also worth noting that the repeal bill was added on to a larger measure passed this week that increases the penalties for mail-in ballot fraud. But voting rights advocates say the mail-in ballot law was passed with the aim of bolstering the prospects of the state’s voter ID law in its ongoing court challenge.
How? Lawyers for plaintiffs challenging the ID law have noted that though Texas claimed the law was aimed at stopping fraud, it did nothing to address mail-in ballot fraud—the one type of voter fraud that exists on any significant level in the state. That suggests the law was really aimed at making it harder for racial minorities to vote. So by now tackling mail-in ballot fraud, lawmakers may be hoping to kick the legs out from under that argument.
A federal judge last year found that the ID law intentionally discriminated against minorities and is considering whether to put Texas back under federal supervision of its voting rules. The state passed a modified version of the ID law earlier this year, which the judge has not yet ruled on.