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Voting, Texas style

This editorial appeared in the Dallas Morning News.

When Texas legislators tackle election reform, improving citizens' access to the polls must always be their North Star. Making it easier for Texans to vote and protecting their ballots are not incompatible standards, and we welcome measures that do both through clear, simple and reasonable rules.

That is why we are relieved that Texas lawmakers improved a controversial piece of legislation known as Senate Bill 7 by adopting commonsense initiatives that increase voter access and ballot safety. As we have said before, there is no evidence of rampant voter fraud, but that doesn't mean we should categorically dismiss any proposed election reforms.

The latest version of Senate Bill 7, which the House passed last week, would create an online tool to allow voters to track their application to vote by mail and their ballot. This measure should boost confidence in the vote-by-mail process, which is sometimes exploited by bad actors.

A provision in the bill would require courts to inform defendants how a felony conviction will limit their voting rights. Such a measure could prevent cases like the conviction of a Tarrant County woman on federal supervised release who said she didn't know she was ineligible to vote in 2016.

We favor another key reform to forbid election officials from distributing mail-in ballot applications to voters who haven't solicited them. Mass-mailing these applications, even if the intended recipients are only people eligible to vote by mail, can be problematic, considering some voters don't update their addresses and many don't want the materials.

We urge lawmakers to steer clear from provisions that could make it harder for Texans to vote. An earlier version of the bill allowed poll watchers — usually partisan actors — to record inside voting centers. This was a bad idea because it opens the door to voter intimidation.

A provision in the original bill to cap weekday early voting hours to 12 hours a day in certain counties is too restrictive. If lawmakers insist on a cap, we hope they will expand the number of hours to something closer to 15 and expand weekend voting as well.

We discourage lawmakers from embracing complicated formulas to determine the distribution of polling sites and equipment in large counties, which could harm minority communities. Rules guiding poll site placement should be simple, consistent and unambiguous.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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