HOUSTON (KXAN) — On Monday morning, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans for a new bill aimed at what he says is rampant voter fraud in the state — and/or “unauthorized attempts to expand voting.”

“One thing all of us should agree on is that we must have trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections,” Abbott said. “The fact is, voter fraud does occur.”

The governor said, however, he’s not aware of any fraud that happened in Texas during the 2020 Election.

Abbott was joined by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt and Rep. Briscoe Cain at Bettencourt’s Houston office, where the governor urged unity in support of Texas House Bill 6.

The governor said the issue isn’t partisan, claiming former President Barack Obama worked to prosecute a “voter fraud scheme” in south Texas in 2014 where a man reportedly gave people cocaine in exchange for their vote. That though was related to a local school board election in Donna, Texas, not a statewide or national election.

Abbott cited the cocaine-for-votes school board example over the weekend to Fox News host Maria Bartiromo, where he claimed Democrats want to “protect ballot harvesting.”

Abbott criticizes Houston’s voting expansion in response to pandemic

Abbott pointed to instances in Harris County where elections officials tried to broaden ways for people to vote — including drive-thru voting centers — in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also encouraged people to vote by mail. Abbott likened that to ballot harvesting.

“The [Harris County] Elections Clerk attempted to send unsolicited mail-in ballot applications to millions of voters, many of whom would not be eligible to vote by mail,” Abbott said. “Election officials should be working to stop potential mail ballot fraud — not facilitate it.”

But, voter advocates, including MOVE Texas, said Harris County’s actions improved access, like offering a polling location open 24 hours a day.

“The straight seven to seven doesn’t work for everyone, and our democracy has to work for everyone,” Bonner said.

Republican Sen. Bettencourt argued that it put urban areas, like Houston, at an unfair advantage compared to those in rural areas.

“I think uniformity is what we need in Texas. So rural voters coming home to work at the same access as as urban voters,” Sen. Bettencourt said.

Abbott also slammed Harris County’s curbside/drive-thru voting stations, which aimed to keep in-person voting contact to a minimum, saying this was “unauthorized expansion” because not all voters qualify for curbside voting.

“We must pass laws to prevent elections officials from jeopardizing the election process.”

Gov. Greg Abbott, March 15

Texas Democrats say Abbott’s calls for election integrity are ‘misleading’

Texas Democrats say Abbott’s calls for election integrity are ‘misleading’

In a press conference Monday afternoon, Texas Democrats say the governor is misleading voters to install fear. State Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) was among those at the press conference. He likened the new legislation to the era of Jim Crow.

“Election integrity means allowing all eligible voters to vote and not erecting barriers to that fundamental right,” Turner said. “Texas has a long and shameful history of enacting barriers to the ballot box especially for Texans of color.”

Bonner said there is no reason to suspect widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

“Despite holding one of the safest and most secure elections in the state’s history in 2020—thanks in no small part to expansions of vote-by-mail, early voting and secure ballot drop-boxes—Gov. Abbott is attempting to restrict these common-sense measures under the false premise of ‘election integrity,’” said Bonner. “Let’s be clear here: there are no widespread cases of voter fraud. That is a fact. Period.”

Democrats also said the Governor should be spending more time on other legislation.

“There are people still without power, there are people still without water from this last Winter Storm Uri, because of the massive failure of our Texas power grid, that’s the narrative we need to be talking about,” Rep. Collier said.

Reason ‘election integrity’ has been partisan over the past year

There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would have altered the final results of the presidential election, but former President Donald Trump and others have pushed that notion. Trump has repeatedly claimed that the election was stolen. Many of Texas’ conservative leaders have supported that idea.

When asked during Monday’s press conference, Governor Abbott could not provide any proof of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

“I don’t know how many or if any elections in the state of Texas in 2020, were altered because of voter fraud,” Abbott said Monday.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick put up a $1 million reward on Nov. 10 for evidence of fraud that led to an arrest and conviction. So far, Patrick has not paid out any of that money.

In December, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued four battleground states and claimed the states made unconstitutional changes to their election laws. The conservative-leaning Supreme Court rejected that argument and refused to hear the case. In January, Paxton traveled to Washington, D.C. to take part in the “Stop the Steal” rallies. He later falsely blamed the Capitol riots on Antifa.

A common refrain from Democrats on Republican-led efforts to pass more restrictive voting laws is that the GOP is attempting to squelch voting rights rather than secure elections.

Bettencourt said the bill would make voting rules and timeframes more uniform, which he said doesn’t infringe on voting rights. Cain echoed these thoughts, saying that rural voters and urban voters should have the same access.

Rural voters tend to vote for Republicans. Urban areas tend to back Democrats.

“The only form of voter suppression is when an illegitimate voter, an illegible voter, casts a ballot,” said Cain. “When an ineligible voter casts their ballot, they’re actually silencing the voice of an American citizen.”

Poll finds 30% of Texans question U.S. elections

In a poll in February, our media partners at the Texas Tribune found that “a large majority of Texas voters think the state’s official election results are just fine, but 30% think national election results are ‘very inaccurate.'”

“While 89% of Democratic voters said the U.S. results are accurate, 73% of Republican voters beg to differ, including a majority — 52% — who characterized the counting as ‘very inaccurate.'”

So Abbott’s emergency item and Sen. Bettencourt’s bill makes sense as it is an issue very important to their base supporters, Republican voters.