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(TNS) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott touted a slew of Republican-led legislative measures Monday that take aim at Harris County's attempts to expand early voting and mail-in ballot access in the 2020 election.

The governor said the measures, carried by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R- Houston, would improve election security in Texas.

"There's really one thing all of us can and should agree upon, and that is we must have trust and confidence in our elections," Abbott said, speaking from Bettencourt's district office in Houston. "One way to do that is to make sure that we reduce the potential for voter fraud in our elections."

Abbott designated "election integrity" as an emergency item for lawmakers to tackle this session. Until Monday, he has provided few details on what that would mean, but the focus on election security comes as statewide polls have shown a vast majority of Texas Republicans believe there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. In a February interview with the American-Statesman, the governor said his concerns were not "related, per se, to the election that took place this past year. This is part of an ongoing effort that we have been engaged in."

Abbott also has said he does not believe there was widespread election fraud in the 2020 election, despite former President Donald Trump and his supporters' claims that the election was stolen.

Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Deer Park Republican and the House Elections committee chair, also joined Abbott and Bettencourt in support of the bills. Cain also filed related election security measures.

Abbott previously indicated his support for Bettencourt's seven "election integrity" bills, which have five Republican coauthors in the Senate.

Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt filed 7 election integrity bills in the Texas Senate.This legislation will take steps to ensure that every eligible voter gets to vote & every ineligible voter is denied the ability to engage in voter fraud.TX will have secure elections.

— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) March 9, 2021

"This legislation will take steps to ensure that every eligible voter gets to vote and every ineligible voter is denied the ability to engage in voter fraud," Abbott tweeted earlier this month. " Texas will have secure elections."

Early Voting

The measures would prohibit some of the actions taken by Harris County elections officials last fall to broaden access to the polls amid the pandemic, including an expansion of mail-in and early voting using drive-thru lanes and 24-hour polling locations.

"The integrity of elections in 2020 were questioned right here in Harris County with the mail-in ballot application process," Abbott said, referring to election officials' attempt to send out vote-by-mail applications to every registered voter in the county. The Texas Supreme Court in October ruled that local officials could not send the applications to every registered voter.

Democrats argued that voters should not have to choose between their health during a pandemic and their right to vote.

Under state law, voting by mail is reserved for those who expect to be out of the county, are 65 or older, have a disability or are incarcerated.

The election measures include requiring the same early voting hours and days across all Texas counties and prohibiting local election officials from suspending Texas' matching signature requirements for a person's mail-in ballot application and mail-in ballot.

Filed 7 election bills, 5 joint authors on most all @SenatorBirdwell @CreightonForTX @loiskolkhorst @SenatorBobHall @DrSchwertner to strengthen voter roll election integrity. #SB1111 stops reg at private P.O. Boxes #SB1113 SOS holds funds to clean roll & #SB1114 roll cross checks

— Team Bettencourt (@TeamBettencourt) March 8, 2021

Bettencourt said creating uniform voting hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. would give rural voters the same access as urban voters.

The bills also would stop voters from using private P.O. boxes as their voter registration address, withhold funds if a county's voter registrar or elections administrator does not quickly remove voters who should be canceled from their rolls and requires voting officials to cross-reference voter rolls and motor vehicle records to remove ineligible voters who are not U.S. citizens.

"We must pass laws to prevent election officials from jeopardizing the election process," Abbott said.

Poll Watchers

Abbott also pointed to claims that poll watchers were being denied access to polling locations.

"This session, we must pass laws to make sure that poll watchers in Texas are not going to be obstructed from observing the ballot counting process," he said.

Travis County Republican Party officials threatened to take legal action in November, alleging that "poll watchers were unable to hear the activities."

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir signed a settlement agreement that allowed poll watchers into ballot counting rooms at all times but called the claims "disruption." Election officials like DeBeauvoir had to balance social distancing precautions during the pandemic with complaints from poll watchers.

“The facility where poll watchers and the press watch the election results was built 60 years ago, and we have never had any complaints until now,” DeBeauvoir told the American-Statesman in November. “I could not allow poll watchers to come into a tiny room and stand on top of innocent election workers who have the right to a safe workplace.”

So far, bills filed in the Legislature have shown the stark partisan divide around elections.

Democrats generally favor making it easier to vote, while Republican bills emphasize security issues. Democratic measures offered so far include same-day voter registration at polling places, giving all voters the opportunity to use mail-in ballots and lengthening the time for early voting.

The House Democratic Caucus is set to hold a press conference at 1:30 p.m. to respond to Abbott's Houston event.

(c)2021 Austin American-Statesman, Texas Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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