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Democrats Sue As Texas Governor Signs Controversial Election Bill Into Law

September 7, 2021 by Dan McCue
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shows off Senate Bill 1, also known as the election integrity bill, after he signed it into law in Tyler, Texas, Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Gregg Abbott had barely finished signing his name to a sweeping overhaul of his state’s election rules Tuesday, when a Democratic election lawyer announced he’d filed a lawsuit to prevent the new procedures from taking effect.

Marc Elias is suing the state on behalf of a retiree organization, two Hispanic advocacy groups, and the state’s largest teachers’ union.

The 59-page complaint asks the federal court in Austin to void the legislation on the grounds that it disenfranchises voters in violation of the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and two sections of the Voting Rights Act.

Abbott was so determined that the new voting reforms be adopted that he called not one but two special legislative sessions over the summer to get it done. The first attempt, of course, ended, when a large number of Texas House Democrats fled Washington, D.C. to deny the Republican majority a quorum.

They only returned to Texas in recent weeks after Abbott called the second special session and made it clear he was determined to wait as long as it took to see a vote taken on the measure.

On Tuesday, Abbott was flanked by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Bryan Hughes, the lead Senate sponsor for the legislation, as he signed it into law.

“Election integrity is now law in the state of Texas,” he declared.

That’s not how the plaintiffs in the newly filed lawsuit see it.

“The legislature enacted SB 1 not to preserve election integrity or combat election fraud — after all, the state’s own election officials have acknowledged that elections in Texas are already secure — but rather to stem the growing tide of minority voter participation by weaponizing the false, repeatedly debunked accusations of widespread voter fraud advanced by supporters of former President Donald Trump during the 2020 presidential election,” Elias wrote on their behalf.

“It is no coincidence that SB 1 passed just months after Texas Republican party leaders, including the state’s governor, attorney general, and members of its congressional delegation, tried and failed to overturn the presidential election results and disenfranchise millions of voters in other states,” he continued.

“Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit to protect both their rights and the rights of their members and constituencies, and to ensure equal access to the ballot box for all Texans,” Elias added later.

In addition to asking that the court toss out the law, the plaintiffs seek injunctive relief to ensure it isn’t enforced before the lawsuit runs its course, as well as court costs and attorney fees.

The new law places restrictions on drive-through voting and voting by mail while also giving more authority to partisan poll watchers.

It also substantially increases the Voter ID requirements that must be met before someone can cast a ballot, and it strikes rules put in place to safely carry out an election during a pandemic.

The latter includes a provision that bars elections officials from distributing vote-by-mail applications to voters who have not specifically requested them.

While Abbott and others have defended these measures as necessary to ensure “trust and confidence” in Texas elections, the governor has also argued that the bill actually expands early voting hours during the 12 days prior to an election in which voters can cast their ballots.

“It ensures that Texas provides even more opportunities for people to engage in the voting process than the president’s home state of Delaware as well as many other states across the entire country,” Abbott said.

The plaintiffs claim the governor is being disingenuous, noting that the early voting may be “extended” to include a few more days of voting between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., but this actually results in some polls being open for fewer hours than they were in 2020.

As an example, they note that for the 2020 general election, Harris County, Texas actually employed an around-the-clock voting program.

“Ten-thousand two-hundred-fifty voters took advantage of Harris County’s 24-hour voting program, many of whom might not have participated in the election at all had Harris County not been permitted to provide 24-hour voting,” the complaint said. “There is no reason to believe that unlawful activity is more likely to occur when polling places operate before 6 a.m. or after 10 p.m.”

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