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Texas bill succeeds in restricting voting, inspiring backlash

Texas has officially joined the slate of Republican-majority states that have enacted new voting restrictions following the 2020 election.  

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) into law on September 7, 2021, tightening state election laws and constraining local control of elections by limiting counties’ abilities to expand voting options. After months of clashes with Democrats over this bill, the Republican Party in Texas won the battle, raising new barriers for marginalized voters.  

SB 1 is set to take effect three months after the special legislative session, in time for the 2022 primary elections. Abbott’s signature was both preceded and followed by a flurry of legal challenges that contend that the law will disproportionately harm voters of color and voters with disabilities.  

While SB 1 increases early voting hours in smaller, mostly Republican counties, the new law otherwise restricts how and when voters may cast ballots. It specifically targets voting initiatives used by the diverse and Democratic-voting Harris County, the state’s most populous county, by banning overnight early voting hours and drive-thru voting — both of which proved popular among voters of color last year.

 The new law will also intensify voting-by-mail rules in a state where the option is already significantly limited. It will give partisan poll watchers increased autonomy inside polling places by granting them free movement, and set new rules — and criminal penalties — for voter assistance. It also makes it a state felony for local election leaders to proactively distribute applications for mail-in ballots, even if they are providing them to voters who automatically qualify to vote by mail or groups helping get out the vote.

“SB 1 is an arduous law designed to limit Tejanos’ ability to exercise their full citizenship,” Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino, said; Voto Latino is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed in Austin on Tuesday. “Not only are we filing suit to protect the right to vote for all people of color, and the additional 250,000 young Latino Tejanos who will reach voting age in 2022, but to protect every Texan’s right to vote.”

Opponents did not wait for the governor’s signature to begin filing lawsuits. The American Civil Liberties Union, minority rights groups and disability advocates are part of a broad coalition that filed a lawsuit last week in federal court in Texas, accusing Republicans of violating the federal Voting Rights Act and discriminating against BIPOC voters. Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said: “Black votes were suppressed today … Greg Abbott has intentionally signed away democracy for so many. We are disgusted. This voter suppression bill is undemocratic, unAmerican and even violates core conservative principles. While Greg Abbott and many other governors have confirmed over and over how far they are willing to go to attack Black voters, we will continue to fight twice as hard to defend the right to vote.”  

This bill will disenfranchise voters of color because it will become easier for judges to overturn elections and restrict early voting on Sundays, a day traditionally used by African American churches to encourage people to vote. This bill will also embolden harassment towards people of color who are trying to vote, because people will have more excuses to attack people of color now that these communities have these restrictions set on them. Democrats are fighting against this and pursuing justice for Texas!