The bill now heads to the Texas Senate.
The legislation comes at a time when the country continues to reckon with the use of force by police on Black and Brown communities and amid a rash of mass shootings across the country.
“It’s the first time we’ve seen this kind of a bill. Texas is No. 1 in this action,” Wendy Underhill, the director of elections and redistricting at NCSL, told CNN on Wednesday.
Underhill noted that Texas election judges are essentially the same as polling place workers on Election Day.
“This is not a topic that is at the top of minds in the election world or legislative world, so Texas is the only place we are seeing it at the moment. But it doesn’t mean it won’t happen in other states as well,” she added.
Charlie Bonner, communications director for MOVE Texas Action Fund, said the legislation could lead to voter intimidation that disproportionately impacts voters of color.
“Make no mistake, allowing election judges to carry handguns will intimidate voters and bad actors will use this opportunity to show up in Black and brown precincts and wreak havoc. This is dead wrong,” Bonner said in an emailed statement to CNN on Wednesday. “Texas has a long and racist history of voter intimidation and allowing election judges to carry handguns in polling locations will only add to that ugly history.”
The new legislation is also concerning local election officials. Dana DeBeauvoir, Travis County clerk, said that “there is no reason” for election judges “to carry a gun and impose additional risks for themselves and others in the polling place.” Travis County includes the city of Austin.
“Election Judges are responsible for conducting the election and ensuring a safe haven for all voters to vote comfortably,” she told CNN in an emailed statement Wednesday. “A gun can quickly escalate partisan tensions. This bill if passed will create fear, distrust, and more tension in the polling place whether it’s the election judge carrying a weapon or any voter walking in the polling place. Firearms do not support the concept of a safe haven for voting for all voters.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated who the secretary of state was in 2018. It also incorrectly said which city is in Travis County.