Voting rights advocates on Friday sued to block a restrictive new GOP-crafted Texas voting bill that the challengers say will make it disproportionately harder for people of color to vote.
The 74-page complaint, filed in a San Antonio-based federal court, takes aim at Senate Bill 1 (S.B. 1), a sweeping measure passed this week that would tighten voting procedures and increase the access of partisan poll watchers.
“By law, the citizens of Texas all have the same right to vote, regardless of race or disability. But with S.B. 1, the legislature is undermining equal access to the ballot box,” said Sean Morales-Doyle of the Brennan Center for Justice, one of the groups behind the lawsuit. “The myriad restrictions in their legislation will be felt most by Latino, Black, and Asian American voters, voters with disabilities, and elderly voters.”
The Republican-backed election bill passed the legislature Tuesday after months of delay during which state House Democrats fled Texas to stymie GOP lawmakers’ efforts, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is soon expected to sign it into law.
The groups behind the lawsuit, which include the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), allege the bill violates the Constitution as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and federal protections for people with disabilities.
The bill rolls back some of the relaxed voter accommodations put in place amid the pandemic ahead of the 2020 election, including drive-thru voting and round-the-clock voting, both of which were used in Harris County, home of Houston.
The bill would also bar elections officials from sending voters unsolicited applications to request a mail-in ballot, something Harris County officials did last year. Any election official who does so in the future would face possible jail time.
The bill’s backers say the new restrictions are needed to ensure election integrity. Critics counter that the measure is meant to suppress Democratic votes in upcoming races.
The legal challengers argue the measure unduly burdens the right to vote and violates free speech rights by limiting various types of permissible voter assistance.
“S.B. 1 will reduce voter participation and discriminate on the basis of race, and for those reasons it should be struck down in court,” said Nina Perales of MALDEF. “In addition to making voting more difficult for all voters, S.B. 1 is aimed directly at Latinos and Asian Americans with specific provisions that cut back on assistance to limited English-proficient voters.”