UPDATE: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1 into law on September 7.
On Tuesday afternoon, Senate Bill 1, a dangerous and sweeping voter restriction bill, passed both houses of the Texas Legislature. This piece of legislation makes it harder for voters who face language access barriers or who have disabilities to get help casting their ballots, restricts election officials’ and judges’ abilities to stop harassment from poll watchers, and bans 24-hour and drive-thru voting, among other measures.
Its supporters claim that S.B. 1 is meant to stop voter fraud. It’s the very same voter fraud that Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office spent 22,000 hours looking for evidence of, only to find 16 cases of false addresses on registration forms in a pool of nearly 17 million registered voters. Despite the governor’s and attorney general’s best efforts to claim otherwise, Texans voted in an election described by the secretary of state’s office as “smooth and secure.” In other words, the restrictions to voting introduced in S.B. 1 are as pointless as they are unlawful.
That’s why the Brennan Center for Justice and co-counsel — the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the Harris County Attorney’s Office, and the law firms of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in Dallas and Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP in New York — filed a lawsuit today against the state of Texas in federal district court. We’re demanding that it be stopped from enforcing S.B. 1’s burdens on voting. We assert that the bill violates the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, Section 2 and Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
From a Baptist congregation in Dallas to an election judge in Austin, our plaintiffs embody a cross section of Texans, representing the interests of Black and Latino communities, voters with disabilities or language limitations, and all Texans who want to protect free and fair elections.
S.B. 1 undermines that goal by placing a slew of new restrictions on voting and elections administration. Among the most troubling provisions in the bill are the several new or enhanced criminal penalties it imposes that may deter voter engagement organizations, election officials, and election workers from doing their jobs. For example, the bill makes it a crime to compensate people who help mail voters. This means organizations can no longer have their employees assist voters who have limited English proficiency, disabilities, or limited literacy.
The bill also makes it a crime for election officials — like our plaintiff Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria — to encourage eligible voters to apply to vote by mail. And it threatens poll workers with criminal prosecution if they try to stop partisan poll watchers from harassing or intimidating voters. These new penalties are one example of a troubling new trend of state laws that target election officials and poll workers.
Laws like these rub salt in the wounds of election workers, many of whom faced unprecedented threats and intimidation last year for simply doing their jobs. They ought to be lauded for administering an election safely in the face of political pressure, partisan election interference, and a global pandemic. Instead, Texas lawmakers have made a mockery of their service by passing S.B. 1.
All of these provisions — even those aimed at election officials or people providing voter assistance — ultimately harm voters. The passage of S.B. 1 means it’s likely to get harder to vote in Texas, a state that had already made it harder than most. Despite this, Texas experienced higher turnout in 2020 than in any other election since 1992, with a significant part of that expansion coming from minority voters. Instead of celebrating this successful participation in our democracy, the state has cried wolf on voter fraud and claimed a threat to “election integrity.”
The objective of S.B. 1 is not to prevent voter fraud — it is to retain power in the face of a changing and expanding electorate. For this reason and others outlined in our complaint, we’re taking the state of Texas to court.