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Texas election security crackdown on the verge of death in the legislature

Voting rights advocates are breathing a cautious sigh of relief at the apparent (but not quite final) demise of legislation in Texas they viewed as among the most draconian to move in any state this year.

The bill gained notice not only because of its breadth of election law changes but because it was being pushed so hard by Republican leaders just as the second-most-populous state in the country is starting to turn purplish after a quarter-century in the bright red.

The state Senate passed it last month, but on Sunday the measure did not earn a place on the agenda for the final week the state House session for 2019.

The measure was a priority for the most influential Republican in Austin, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who hailed it as essential to assuring elections security. But the heart of the bill – giving counties five years to use voting machines that provide an auditable, voter-verifiable paper trail – was stripped out in recent days, causing the limited bipartisan support to evaporate.

Left in were a series of provisions that critics see as certain to scare away poor, elderly and disabled voters as well as the legions of volunteers needed to keep the voting lines moving on Election Day. The measure would make voting by someone ineligible a felony (it's now a misdemeanor). It would increase criminal penalties for providing false information on a registration application, boost police investigative powers over elections, allow partisan poll watchers into some voting booths and require those who assist people in getting to the polls to detail precisely why they did so.

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"This is a huge win for voting rights and against voter suppression," Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, said in a statement Sunday after the bill was left off the calendar. "These fights are not over and we continue to be vigilant in watching for attempts to amend pieces of SB 9 onto other bills."

Although the entire package is dead, individual sections could still be tacked on to unrelated bills in the whirlwind of the Legislature's final week.

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