Voter restriction bills could cost Texas and Tarrant County billions, report says

Tarrant County and Texas could suffer losses in the tourism and economic development industry, if the Legislature adopts a voting restriction bill, according to a report.

With Tarrant County and Texas the destination for major events, Senate Bill 7 could dampen those prospects if passed in its entirety. Fort Worth and Arlington have long envisioned themselves as attractions for conventions and events.

Most recently, Fort Worth and Arlington have hosted the National Finals Rodeo, the Rose Bowl, U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials, and are set to host the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in June and the NCAA basketball first and second round games in 2022.

But with the NCAA’s history of pulling events from states that have discriminatory laws and Major League Baseball most recently pulling the All-Star game from Georgia in response to that state’s new voter restriction law, Texas could be in for backlash from companies and organizations.

SB 7 was introduced by Senate Republicans to bolster election integrity and reduce the likelihood of fraud, but opponents argue it is a solution in search of a problem. Election experts have said there is no evidence of widespread fraud in the November 2020 election and that the election was the most secure in U.S. History. Gov. Greg Abbott made election integrity bills a priority for this legislative session.

The bill would limit how local officials can expand voting options, regulate the distribution of polling places in urban areas, set new rules for voting by mail and enhance poll watching among other things. On Monday, Texas Sen. Bryan Hughes, the main author of SB 7 rejected amendments made by the House on May 7, which made the bill different from the first one introduced. Now the bill will go to a conference committee to settle the differences between the chambers.

None of the authors of SB 7 responded to a request for comment.

Texas could lose $16.7 billion in revenue from tourism and economic development and lose about nearly 150,000 jobs by 2025, according to an analysis by the Waco-based Perryman Group, which analyzes the financial impact of legislation.

Tarrant County could lose up to $1 billion from tourism and economic development and lose about 9,000 jobs, according to the analysis.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said the county has a delegation in Austin trying to convince lawmakers that SB7 is not good for the state or county. Other than trying to convince lawmakers, there is very little the county can do when it comes to this legislation.

Whitley acknowledges that the bill would make it harder for people to vote. The county has prided itself of having more than 300 voting centers that are convenient for Tarrant County voters.

The best outcome is that the state realizes elections are best handled by counties, Whitley said. It’s been that way since the state was founded.

“One of the fundamental tenets of the Republican Party is the local control, and many of the Republicans down there seem to have forgotten that,” Whitley said.

Ray Perryman, president and CEO of the Perryman Group, said his group studied the economic impact of voting laws dating to the Voting Act of 1965.

Revenue coming from outside the state such as large conventions, general tourism and sporting events such as the MLB or NCAA won’t want to come to a state that is perceived as being discriminatory, Perryman said.

Texas Republicans aren’t really looking at the economic impact loss too much because they believe it’s overestimated, said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

Abbott didn’t seem fazed by the MLB’s decision in Georgia. In response, he refused to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Texas Rangers home opener in April.

Abbott went on to write that he will not participate in any MLB event and that the state will not seek to host the All-Star Game or any MLB event.

“It is shameful that America’s pastime is not only being influenced by partisan political politics but also perpetuating false political narratives,” Abbott wrote in a letter on April 5. This decision does not diminish the deep respect I have for the Texas Rangers baseball organization, which is outstanding from top to bottom.”