Civil rights

Civil rights groups sue, seeking to block Texas elections bill

Two lawsuits have been filed against the state over the GOP Priority Elections Bill passed this week, which awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature. Both allege that it violates various federal laws and the US Constitution.

The sweeping bill, which passed the House and Senate on Tuesday, bans drive-thru and 24-hour voting, creates new requirements for assistants of voters with special needs, and grants better access to voting observers, among other provisions.

Both lawsuits have been filed in federal court and are asking a judge to prevent the law from coming into force.

Republicans defended the law as necessary to prevent voter fraud and build voter confidence. Renae Eze, spokesperson for Abbott, who is one of several state officials named in the two lawsuits, did not directly respond to a question about the lawsuits, but said the bill ” will strengthen confidence in the outcome of our elections “.

“Protecting the integrity of our elections is essential in the State of Texas, which is why Governor Abbott made the integrity of elections a matter of urgency during the regular legislative session and worked to ensure its adoption by convening extraordinary session after extraordinary session, “said Eze.

One of the lawsuits was filed in federal court in San Antonio by Harris County Election Officer Isabel Longoria and a host of civil rights groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Brennan Center for Justice in NYU and the Anti-Defamation League Austin. . He argues that the limitations in the bill unduly weigh on voting rights and are intentionally discriminatory against minority voters in Texas.

“SB1 is the latest chapter in Texas'” long and well-documented history of discrimination “against Latino and black citizens in the voting and electoral processes,” the lawsuit says, adding that the bill “will cause irreparable harm to complainants and the citizens of Texas more generally. “

The complainants allege that the law was enacted “at least in part” with an intention of racial discrimination in violation of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

They also say that new requirements for those helping voters, such as a new form they must fill out and the addition of a language in their oath that specifies it is taken under penalty of perjury, violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Voting Rights Act.

“In addition to making voting more difficult for all voters, SB 1 is aimed directly at Latinos and Asian Americans with specific provisions that reduce attendance for voters with fluency in English,” Nina said. Perales, vice-president of litigation at MALDEF, in a press release. declaration.

The lawsuit also challenges a provision that prevents local election officials from sending postal ballot requests to those who do not, making it a state prison crime. The provision violates the free speech rights of Longoria and other officials, complainants say.

“SB 1’s anti-solicitation provision therefore prevents Ms. Longoria from encouraging eligible and potentially eligible voters to submit requests to vote by mail by threatening her with severe criminal penalties and onerous fines for making such a speech,” indicates the trial.

Longoria could also be hampered “when she is simply giving truthful advice in response to questions from individual voters,” as this could be seen as “asking” the person to apply for a nomination.

The second action was filed in federal court in Austin by OCA-Greater Houston, League of Women Voters of Texas, REVUP-Texas, Texas Organizing Project, and Workers Defense Action Fund.

This lawsuit makes many of the same arguments and challenges new requirements that voters must provide their Texas driver’s license number, voter identification certificate, or personal identification card on their applications to vote. by mail. And these numbers must match the number they provide on the envelope containing their ballot. If they do not match, the ballot will be rejected.

This is a violation of civil rights law, claim the plaintiffs, “because the omission or error in the request or the supporting envelope is not important in determining whether the person named on this request or this support envelope is an eligible voter “.

Both lawsuits raised concerns about the bill’s measures to penalize vote-harvesting, defined in the bill as “face-to-face interaction with one or more voters, in the physical presence of an official ballot. or a ballot paper voted by mail, intended to deliver votes for a candidate or a specific measure.

This language is too vague, argue the complainants, and could hamper the work of community organizations that conduct non-partisan voter turnout activities and “ordinary interactions” between citizens.

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