Texas Legislature passes bills to increase voting accessibility

Areebah Bharmal, General News Reporter

The Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 477 and House Bill 3159 this session to increase voting accessibility for those with disabilities. 

Effective immediately, SB 477, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 18, allows those with mobility difficulties to vote before others who arrive at polling locations.  

Kate Murphy, government sophomore and co-director of Student Government’s Disability Inclusion Agency, said obstacles to voting are amplified for those with disabilities. Murphy said allowing those with a physical impairment to the front of the line helps ensure everyone can vote.

“For some people, it’s just a nuisance to go to the poll, or it’s too difficult to arrive, and that’s a deterrent for them,” Murphy said. “I had to stand in line for an hour and a half to vote. A lot of people don’t have that capability.”

HB 3159 would have allowed for early voting absentee ballots on an electronic system for those with disabilities who need assistance marking or reading paper ballots. However, Gov. Abbott vetoed the bill.  

“I think (SB 477 and HB 3159 are) definitely a huge step forward,” said Chase Bearden, the deputy executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. “I think those will be some of the biggest steps forward in accessible voting since (The Help America Vote Act) passed.”

According to the voting record, both bills received bipartisan support in the legislature. Bearden said CTD worked with both parties to file HB 3159.

“You’re going to be touched by disability at some point in your life, either personally or a friend or family member,” Bearden said. “It doesn’t discriminate across political lines, it touches everyone. So this did affect Republicans, Democrats, independents; it affected all voters in Texas.”

Murphy said the most important part of a democratic society is citizens voting for their representatives. 

“We must have elected officials that reflect the opinions of the entirety of the citizens of Texas or of America, not just that small percent that can get to the polls, or that have enough education or enough access to be able to go vote,” Murphy said.

Bearden said his organization would continue to stand behind goals like bipartisanship and depoliticization.

“I think if we can all get on the same page and work together outside of session, we can come up with good ways to run our elections that works for everyone, and ensures that we keep that stability and belief that every vote counts,” Bearden said. “Because at the end of the day, every vote has to count. We need to make sure of it.”