On May 6 2019, the following tweet described proposed legislation in Texas that would purportedly disenfranchise voters unable to drive themselves to the polls:
A prominent retweet garnered several thousand more shares:
A screenshot of the same tweet with additional commentary from a different account was shared to Facebook by act.tv a day later. Together, both tweets read:
Siri? What’s the definition of voter suppression?
Texas Sen. Bryan Hughes’ new bill, S. Bill 9, will disallow driving of the elderly, disabled, or poor people to the polls. It would ban efforts with vans full of elderly from nursing homes, disabled people, poor people who don’t have cars, would be illegal in Texas
According to the tweet, Texas state senator Bryan Hughes was sponsoring SB 9; that bill purportedly carried provisions that would limit the eligibility of people arriving to polls in groups to vote.
An April 2019 article published by the American-Statesman alluded to the referenced provisions in a series of bullet points:
Under SB 9:
• Those who help somebody vote must submit a form listing their name, address, relationship to the voter and reason assistance was necessary.
• Those who vote by mail based on disability must submit a form that says, “I am physically unable to enter a polling place without needing personal assistance or injuring my health.”
• People who drive at least three voters to a polling place and request curbside voting must sign a form identifying themselves and swear that the voters are not physically able to enter the voting location.
A LegiScan page for Texas Senate Bill 9 (“Bill Title: Relating to election integrity; increasing criminal penalties; creating a criminal offense; creating civil penalties”) did not specifically name the populations referenced in the tweet, such as elderly or impoverished people. However, it is likely the relevant portion concerned proposed provisions regulating overall transportation to polls:
SECTION 2.09. Section 33.060(a), Election Code, is amended to read as follows:
SECTION 2.11. Section 64.009, Election Code, is amended by adding Subsections (e), (f), and (g) to read as follows:
(e) A person who assists at least three voters voting under this section at the same time by providing the voters with transportation to the polling place must complete and sign a form that:
(1) requires the person to affirm that the voters are physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring their health; and
(2) contains the following information:
(A) the person’s name and address; and
(B) whether the person is providing assistance to the voters solely under this section or under both this section and Subchapter B.
(f) Subsection (e) does not apply to a person if the person is a family member of all voters that the person provides with transportation to the polling place. For purposes of this subsection, “family member” has the meaning assigned by Section 33.057(a).
(g) The secretary of state shall prescribe the form described by Subsection (e).
In a separate portion of the legislation, a definition of “family member” was provided:
In this section, “family member” means a person related to the voter within the second degree by affinity or third degree by consanguinity, as determined under Subchapter B, Chapter 573, Government Code.
Another copy of the bill was available via Texas Legislature Online, along with updates about its progress.
At first glance, it looked as if the law might essentially discourage driving three or more people to a polling place by requiring drivers to account for their relationships to passengers. But a sub-provision referenced the voters’ inability to physically enter the polling place “without personal assistance or [without] likelihood of injuring their health.”
In an April 10 2019 KYTX report about whether SB 9 threatened Texans’ right to vote, Hughes and Smith County Voter Registration Drive organizer Nancy Nichols were quoted in part on the “transportation” portion of the bill:
“A concern that has many people worried is what appears to be restrictions for rides to the polls.” Nichols said. “In that section, it’s proposed that we would need forms filled out and things like that to be able to take the elderly or the disabled to the polls. If that’s expanded, then what does that mean specifically what does that mean for our rides to the polls[?]”
In defense of this section of the bill, Senator Hughes wrote in a statement, “If you take ten friends to the polling place and they hop out and go vote, this section doesn’t apply to you at all.”
“We heard testimony of certain jurisdictions where handlers would go around and load up 10 to 15 people in a van, take them to the polling place, and tell the elections workers that all of the passengers were too disabled to enter the polling place and needed to vote curbside,” Senator Hughes said. “The workers then bring out a voting machine and the driver of the van talks each voter through their ballot, telling them how to vote.
“Under this section of the bill only a person who takes three or more people at a time who are not family members and who are all disabled to the point of not being able to enter the polling place would be affected,” Senator Hughes said. “Even then, the bill doesn’t prohibit transportation, it just requires the driver to fill out a short form with basic information about who they are and how they helped.”
In a March 21 2019 Longview News-Journal item, Hughes addressed concerns about the same portion of the law, claiming that purported electioneering efforts prompted the transportation section of the proposed law:
Hughes said the 1,000-foot rule is in response to another form of fraudulent voter “assistance,” which he likened to the old bad-lawyer cliche of “ambulance chasing.”
“That’s exactly what it is,” he said, describing busloads of partisan campaigners who can crowd the entries to polls.
“Because mail ballots are not as ripe for stealing (as they were), they’ll line up at the polling place,” he said. “And they’ll come up and say, ‘Oh. You need assistance, don’t you?’ They’re actually lining up at the polling place saying, ‘You need assistance.’”
A March 19 2019 Texas Observer article about civil rights groups’ opposition to the bill’s provisions included the full text of a letter from those groups. The letter’s second page raised additional concerns about voter intimidation relating to the details referenced in the popular tweet:
The popular tweet seen above said that SB 9 would “disallow” the transportation of elderly, disabled, and disadvantaged people to the polls, disenfranchising all three populations. Voting rights advocates broadly objected to SB 9 on the grounds that it could steeply criminalize voting errors as well as introduce possible intimidation by partisan poll watchers in situations where voting was assisted.
Hughes said that the provision was prompted by “assisted” voting and that the simple act of polling place transportation would not be affected. Nothing in the language of the bill itself indicated that driving voters without assisting them would fall under its provisions, but civil rights groups objected to the law, saying that the sum of its provisions would have a suppressive effect on voting in Texas.