Gov. Greg Abbott signed the Republican-backed voting bill into law Tuesday, making good on a promise to rewrite the state’s election practices despite sharp opposition — and quorum-busting walkouts — by Democrats.
“Election integrity is now the law in the state of Texas,” Abbott said shortly after putting his signature to Senate Bill 1 during a signing ceremony in Tyler.
Abbott dismissed Democrats and civil rights leaders who say SB 1 will increase hurdles to voting and disproportionately target nonwhite voters.
“No one who is eligible to vote will be denied the opportunity to vote,” the governor said in front of a backdrop of U.S. and Texas flags and a half-dozen Republican lawmakers. “It does, however, make it harder for people to cheat.”
Immediately after Abbott signed SB 1, the League of United Latin American Citizens announced that it had filed a federal lawsuit to block the law from taking effect in early December.
“LULAC strongly opposes this attack on our voting rights and freedoms because they have one and only one purpose — to dilute our voice at the ballot box and continue to stop electoral change in Texas,” said Domingo Garcia, president of the organization.
Two similar federal court challenges were filed Friday.All Democrats in the Legislature voted against SB 1, arguing that it was inspired by the “big lie” that voter fraud denied Donald Trump a second term in the White House, requiring a sharp crackdown to protect the integrity of the ballot.
Only one Texas lawmaker crossed party lines — Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who voted against SB 1.
House Democrats temporarily blocked the GOP from rewriting election laws by walking out of the Capitol in the closing hours of the regular session, denying a quorum that halted a final vote.
Democrats also broke quorum in the first special session, traveling to Washington to urge Congress to pass national voting rights legislation, something that has yet to occur.
Midway through the second special session, the Democratic bloc crumbled, allowing the House to make quorum and rush through SB 1 as well as other conservative measures backed by Abbott, including new restrictions on drug-induced abortions, a sharp increase on border security spending and additional limits on how race can be taught in classrooms.
The battlefield over SB 1 will next shift to the federal courts.
Civil- and voting-rights groups, joined by progressive organizations, on Friday filed two federal lawsuits to block SB 1 from taking effect in early December, arguing that it will suppress voting rights, allow partisan poll watchers to intimidate voters and poll workers, and create poorly defined new crimes and civil penalties.
Additional lawsuits are expected.
Abbott said he was confident SB 1 will be upheld in court.
“I’d be astonished if a law like this was not challenged in court. The first thing the Democrats do is run to the courthouse and try to challenge,” he said, repeating the GOP mantra that SB 1 makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat. “Those are the kinds of principles the courts will uphold.”
Passed in the closing days of the second special session, which ended Thursday, SB 1 makes sweeping changes to Texas election law:
** SB 1 bans drive-thru voting or casting a ballot from inside a vehicle unless participating in curbside voting due to sickness or a disability. It also prohibits 24-hour and overnight voting by requiring polls to be open a minimum of nine hours from between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Both innovations were offered last year by Harris County as a pandemic safety measure.
** Poll watchers, who monitor elections on behalf of candidates or political parties, must be allowed to observe, without obstruction, election activity inside polling places and vote-counting centers to call attention to “any observed or suspected irregularity or violation of law.” Watchers also cannot be denied “free movement” where election activity is occurring.
The new law also makes it a crime, with a jail term of up to one year, for election officers to deny access to a poll watcher.
** Early voting polling sites must open at least nine hours a day, up from the current eight-hour requirement — opening no earlier than 6 a.m. and later than 10 p.m. Voters who are in line when an early voting site closes would be entitled to cast a ballot that day, a protection currently in place for election day voters.
** Texans who vote by mail must include a driver’s license number or last four digits of a Social Security number on the envelope containing their ballot. That number would have to match the number provided on the vote-by-mail application submitted earlier. Voters may use an expired license or state-issued ID card that is “otherwise valid.”
** Voters who make a mistake that invalidates a mail-in ballot — such as forgetting to sign the envelope or submitting a signature that does not match what’s on file — will be given a chance to correct the problem if there’s enough time before election day. If time is short, county election officials have the choice of whether to notify voters, by phone or email, that they can cancel their vote-by-mail application and vote in person.
** Those who help a voter cast a ballot due to language or physical needs must fill out a document listing their name, address and relationship to the voter. Assistants also have to sign an oath, under penalty of perjury, stating that the voter is eligible for help due to a physical disability or is unable to read the ballot language.
** Those who transport seven or more non-family members to a polling location for curbside voting must fill out a form giving their name and address and indicate whether they also provided help casting any ballots.
** Candidates may sue an election opponent to collect $1,000 for each violation of election laws such as illegal voting, illegal delivery of a mail-in ballot or providing a false statement on a voter registration or vote-by-mail application.
** SB 1 makes it a crime for a public official to send an application to vote by mail to somebody who did not request it. The crime also would apply to officials who authorize spending tax money for a third party to send unsolicited applications. The state jail felony has a jail term of up to two years.
** The bill also creates the new crime of vote harvesting, defined as “in-person interaction with one or more voters, in the presence of the ballot or during the voting process, intended to deliver votes for a specific candidate or measure” in exchange for payment or another benefit. The third-degree felony carries a 2- to 10-year prison term.
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