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Analysis

We’re Suing Texas Over Its New Voter Suppression Law

The Lone Star State has responded to last year’s historic turnout by cracking down on voter access.

Last Updated: September 7, 2021
Published: September 3, 2021

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.