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Texas Governor Vows Action After Democrats Walk Out Over Voting Bill

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Texas is not finished debating its voting laws. Over the holiday weekend, the legislative session ended in Texas. Republicans in the legislature wanted to pass a bill with numerous changes to election rules. Democrats walked off the House floor, denied the majority party a quorum. That stopped business and they ran out the clock. Texas Governor Greg Abbott is expected to call a special session to consider the bill again quite soon. And Republican State Representative Travis Clardy will have more work as a result. He is on the House Elections Committee in Texas, and he joins us now. Good morning, sir.

TRAVIS CLARDY: Good morning, Steve, great to be on the show. And I've got to say, a longtime listener on your Red River Radio affiliate.

INSKEEP: All right. Thank you for listening. I appreciate that, sir. Now, Governor Greg Abbott threatened to veto the pay for state legislators and their staffs for failing to get their work done. I gather he was aiming at Democrats, but that would also affect you. Is that appropriate?

CLARDY: I think he shot with a pretty big shotgun on that one, but I don't think that's going to become a reality. You know, when you think about it, you know, we've been going for 140 days in session. Tempers get a little raw towards the end. So let's let everybody settle down. And I think we'll move past that little bump in the road.

INSKEEP: It does sound like you're more likely to go into special session and consider this legislation again. But I want you to - as you know, there's a lot of strong feelings about this, Representative. I want you to speak to people who disagree with you here. Republicans across this country - and this just seems like a matter of fact to me - have pushed for voting changes based on former President Trump's lie that the election was stolen - totally false. Thousands of election officials from both parties certified the results. Dozens of courts upheld the results. So why would Texas follow so many other states in trying to change the rules based on that?

CLARDY: Well, I can tell you in all sincerity, the action we took in the Texas legislature had nothing to do with the Trump election. I serve in the state government in the Texas state legislature. I look at the elections we had this past fall. And I'm very confident and comfortable with the work done by election officials at the statewide level and then throughout the state. I have zero doubt about the legitimacy of elections in Texas. That's really not the point for us. This is a preventative measure for us. We do have and heard testimony throughout our session of problems of voter irregularities, of voter fraud, of cases currently being investigated. It is an issue. It is a real thing. But I think it's our job to make sure that doesn't blossom into a problem that disturbs the underlying and one of the underpinnings of our democracy, and that is confidence in our elections. So we took...

INSKEEP: Did you find...

(CROSSTALK)

CLARDY: ...Measured steps.

INSKEEP: Did you find more than a handful of actual cases of voter fraud over the years? Because our correspondents who've reported on this rarely find more than a handful.

CLARDY: You know, it's a great question, and the short answer is yes. We had testimony from the office of attorney general. And there is a disturbing trend that we see in Texas. You go back half a dozen years, there may have been, as you said, a dozen cases, 10 cases, 20 cases, 25 cases, but that trend line has moved up dramatically with the hundreds of cases now being investigated and, when appropriate, prosecuted by the office of attorney general. So, no, there is a distinct pick up in some of the activities, frankly, that don't happen in the part of the world that I represent. There are things that I heard discussed in the committee for the first time concerning vote harvesting that goes on at a very high level and a very organized level in parts of our state. So it's a real issue, but I think it's our job not to allow this thing to fester, become a problem that makes people really doubt our election outcomes. Because I think that was one of the most troubling things about what happened out of the last election, the seeds of doubt that were sown about how there was a national reaction following the Trump election.

INSKEEP: Representative, this bill has changed a lot in the last few days, so you'll correct me if I'm a little wrong here, but do I understand it correctly that under the new rules, a judge can find there is a preponderance of evidence, not proof but a preponderance of evidence, which is a lower standard of proof, that and - that some ballots were illegal and without actually trying to find out who won the election, he can change the result of the election, is that correct?

CLARDY: No, that's really not accurate, Steve. And I will tell you, I hope I have a kindred soul in this one. You know, we came down to literally the last few hours to get the Senate Bill 7 passed as amended by the House and worked through the Congress (ph). But...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

CLARDY: ...One of the issues - I'm sure you don't know any reporters that will push the deadline and had to push something through and get it on the - on air.

INSKEEP: It's happened once in a while. That's true.

CLARDY: Once or twice. And I will tell you, I do - if there's one thing I regret about what we did is we didn't really have the time to inform the other members of the legislature, both Republican and Democrat, of the details of what was in the legislation. I do know we will be having a special session. I look forward to cleaning this up. There are some great pieces of legislation and some things we worked on that I think will make elections fairer, more open, more transparent. That's the goal here. We really want everybody that's eligible to vote to be able to vote as easy and timely as they can.

INSKEEP: When I read what I think is the final version of this legislation, it limits the number of hours that a county can have early voting on a Sunday, which some people will think is targeted directly at souls to the polls, Black church events. Can you tell me why limiting the number of hours of voting on a Sunday would make elections more secure?

CLARDY: And actually, that's one of the things I look forward to with fixing the most. Call it a scrivener's error, whatever you want to. I talked to our team yesterday, kind of regrouping of what happened. That was not intended to be reduced. I think there was a - you know, call it a mistake if you want to. What should have been 11 was actually printed up as one. So we intended to have extended hours instead of 7 to 7 in most locations, allow that to go from 6 to - I'm sorry - from 6 to 9. So it's actually providing for extended hours in most locations. But I also think it's fair - I represent a rural part of the state - that election law should be consistent to everyone. It doesn't seem fair to me that somebody in one part of the state can vote 24 hours a day whether - and other parts of the state can only vote 12 or 15 hours. So we try to harmonize that, balance those interests. Texas is a very diverse state. And so - but we want to make sure - we have two weeks of early voting. We have mail-in balloting that's available. We do everything possible, I think, to make sure that everybody who wants to vote can register to vote and has that opportunity. And that's really our goal.

INSKEEP: We've just got a few seconds. But I was also reading the bill, and it seems to apply different rules to counties under 30,000, which are very rural and almost entirely Republican, and different rules to counties over 30,000, which would include bluer counties.

CLARDY: Right. Right. And a lot of that as we get down in the weeds of - and I represent I would call it rural Texas, three counties in east Texas. But, you know, what you have is some different financial limitations and budget limitations that smaller counties have. So we try to work within those. It's a difficult balance. We have 254 counties in Texas. Some of them literally have 100 people. And others, like Harris County, have upwards of six or eight million. So it's a balancing act. We try to do it. I'm looking forward to coming back to special session and getting this right.

INSKEEP: My goodness, there's so much to discuss. We've just scratched the surface. But Representative Clardy, I really appreciate your help with this. Thank you so much.

CLARDY: All right. Thank you for having me on the show. Bye-bye.

INSKEEP: Republican State Representative Travis Clardy in east Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "ANTENNA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.