AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – After hours of emotional debate, the Texas House gave final approval to a controversial elections bill Friday afternoon.
The vote, 78-64, went along party lines.READ MORE: North Texas Law Enforcement Disappointed In Gov. Abbott's Veto Of Domestic Violence Education Bill
Republicans have said the bill would restore confidence in state elections, while Democrats have said it would suppress votes, especially for those of people with color.
Debate on the House version of Senate Bill 7 began just before 6 p.m. Thursday and, amid negotiations and discussions, continued off and on into the early morning hours of Friday until they voted at 3 a.m.
During the session Friday afternoon, Democratic State Rep. Rafael Anchia, of Dallas, repeated the words of the Texas Secretary of State when describing the state’s November election. “Successful, safe, secure.”
He disagreed with Republicans who’ve said the elections integrity bill is needed. “The rare instances of fraud in Texas are less likely than anyone being hit by lightning. They don’t undermine confidence in our elections.”
Under SB 7, would make it a state jail felony for county elections officials to distribute unsolicited voting by mail applications.
It would also standardize rules statewide.READ MORE: Dallas County DA Reverses Plans To Seek Death Penalty For Alleged Serial Killer Billy Chemirmir
Republican State Rep. Briscoe Cain, of Deer Park, who authored the House version of the bill said, “This bill requires the election code to be applied uniformly and consistently statewide. it requires the provision of this elections code to be strictly construed and prohibits the unauthorized altering or waiving or suspension of election procedure or practice by any public official.”
The legislation also requires those helping people to vote at polling locations to register their names and take an oath.
Democrats have said they worry that will intimidate some voters along with another provision that expands the rights of poll-watchers.
But Cain sought to ease concerns and said that the bill protects all Texans. “This bill seeks to strike a balance between poll-watchers and elections workers. Watchers are not there to watch voters, that’s the job of elections judges. The watchers are there to watch the process.”
Democratic State Rep. Rhetta Bowers of Garland urged Republicans to reject the bill. “Let’s move Texas forward together. And right now, in this 87th legislative session, it feels very retroactive to me.”
Because the House version is different than the original version, it will return to the Texas Senate where lawmakers will consider the House amendments.
If they approve, the bill will then head to Gov. Greg Abbott who has called this issue a priority.MORE NEWS: 'New Personnel & Procedures, Insufficient Oversight' Led To Texas Execution Without Media Present
If the Senate disagrees with the House amendments, members from both chambers will have to hash out their differences first before sending it to the governor.