Corporate criticism of GOP-led voting bills spreads to Texas

Texas State Capitol building in Austin, Texas. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The ranks of big corporations now criticizing GOP efforts to restrict voting access spread Thursday to Texas as measures that would reduce options to cast ballots and limit polling hours advanced in the state Capitol.

American Airlines, which is based in Fort Worth, came out against restrictive voting measures that have a favorable path to reaching Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's desk in the coming weeks. 

Public opposition from the airline came after a package of sweeping elections changes cleared the GOP-controlled Senate and, notably, a day after some of Georgia's most prominent corporate leaders came out publicly against a new election law after civil rights activists criticized their silence. 

"To make American's stance clear: We are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it," the airline said in a statement. 

Unlike in Georgia, the corporate criticism in Texas to the election bills comes before they have been signed into law. Corporate interests carry big clout in the Texas Capitol, but Abbott and other Republicans have given no indication of wavering in their pursuit of passing the measures before the session ends in May. 

The passage of Senate Bill 7 was along party lines in a vote after midnight early Thursday.

American Airlines' reaction to the bill advancing was slammed by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the powerful Senate leader. "Texans are fed up with corporations that don't share our values trying to dictate public policy," Patrick said in a statement. 

House Republicans on Thursday also began efforts to move a similar bill, known as House Bill 6, to the floor with nearly 200 people signed up to testify at a hearing.

Billionaire Michael Dell, whose tech company is headquartered in suburban Austin, tweeted his opposition to the bill as that hearing unfolded. 

Critics of the Texas legislation say the efforts particularly target expanded access put into place during last year's election in Harris County, which is home to more than 2 million voters, controlled by Democrats and a key Texas battleground that includes Houston.

One measure would eliminate drive-thru voting, which more than 127,000 people around Houston used during early voting last year. More than half of those voters were Black, Latino or Asian, said Democratic state Sen. Carol Alvarado. 

"Hearing all of that, who are you really targeting when you're trying to get rid of drive-thru voting?" she said. 

Republicans rejected accusations that the bill was designed to suppress turnout. 

"None of what we've discussed is voter suppression. And none of what we've discussed is Jim Crow," Republican state Sen. Paul Bettencourt said. 

The voting packages in Texas mirror a nationwide campaign by Republicans after former President Donald Trump made false claims about election fraud.

Voting rights groups say the measures would disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority voters. In Texas, which already has some of the strictest voting laws in the U.S., the proposed legislation grants more power to partisan poll watchers and eliminates the option to cast a ballot via drive-thru. The bill also includes a provision requiring a doctor's note for people with disabilities who want to vote by mail, although Republicans signaled during the debate that language could change. 

Trump won Texas but by fewer than 6 points. It was the closest victory by any GOP presidential nominee in Texas since 1996, underscoring Republicans' loosening iron grip on the state.

After the Georgia bill was signed into law, some of the state's companies were roundly criticized, including by more than 70 Black corporate leaders who took out an advertisement in The New York Times urging corporate America to stand up forcefully on matters of racial justice.

After days of criticism and the boycott threat on social media, Delta CEO Ed Bastian took a stronger tone, calling the Georgia law unacceptable. "The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true," Bastian wrote, referring to Trump's claims that he lost because of fraud. 
   Associated Press writers Acacia Coronado and AP Airlines Writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.