Lawsuits begin as Texas GOP voting bill fight moves to court

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Greg Abbott

FILE – In this June 8, 2021, file photo, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas. Opponents of a sweeping Republican elections overhaul in Texas sued Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021 going to court even before he had signed into law changes that would further tighten the state’s already strict voting rules. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Opponents of a sweeping Republican elections overhaul in Texas sued Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday, going to court even before he had signed into law changes that would further tighten the state’s already strict voting rules.

Two lawsuits, filed in separate federal courts in Texas, are believed to be the first to challenge the far-reaching measure known as Senate Bill 1, which the Legislature approved this week after Democrats ended months of protests over changes that include new limits on voting hours and criminal penalties for obstructing partisan poll watchers.

Abbott said he would sign it, which could happen within days.

The challenges were brought by a broad coalition of voting rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, disability and minority rights organizations, and the elections administrator for Harris County, which includes Houston and was particularly targeted by the measure. Because of the pandemic, Texas’ largest county — which is a Democratic stronghold — last year offered 24-hour polling and drive-thru voting locations, and tried to send every registered voter a mail-in ballot application.

All of those options would be outlawed under the bill, which opponents say is a brazen attempt to disenfranchise minorities and other Democratic-leaning voters. The lawsuit argues that the bill would violate the federal Voting Right Act and intentionally discriminate against minority voters.

“We cannot allow our democracy to be undermined by these blatantly illegal voting restrictions aimed at disenfranchising communities of color and voters with disabilities,” said Ryan Cox, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Republicans say the bill provides safeguards against voter fraud. They also point out that it would increase the minimum number of hours during early voting and expand the number of counties where polls would have to stay open for 12 hours.

“Protecting the integrity of our elections is critical in the state of Texas, which is why Governor Abbott made election integrity an emergency item during the regular legislative session and worked to ensure its passage by calling special session after special session ensuring uniform statewide rules,” Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze said in a statement.

Texas is one of several Republican-led states that have pushed through new voting restrictions in the name of election security since the party lost the White House. The effort, which led to new restrictions in Georgia, Florida, Arizona and elsewhere, was spurred in part by former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen from him.

In July, the Supreme Court upheld new voting limits in Arizona that a lower court had found discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act. The court rejected the idea that showing that a state law disproportionately affects minority voters is sufficient proof that it violates the federal law.

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