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A voting bill that will make it harder for Texans, particularly voters of color, to cast their ballots is unconstitutional and violates federal voting rights law because it diminishes access to the ballot box, according to a lawsuit filed today in federal court.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, and the law firms of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP in New York and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in Dallas filed a challenge in U.S. District Court in San Antonio to Senate Bill 1. The lawsuit – filed on behalf of 10 membership and community-based organizations, an election official, an election judge, and voters – claims that S.B. 1’s provisions violate the federal Voting Rights Act, the Supremacy Clause, and the First, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Texas House and Senate passed the bill Tuesday.
“S.B. 1 will reduce voter participation and discriminate on the basis of race, and for those reasons it should be struck down in court,” said Nina Perales, MALDEF Vice President of Litigation. “In addition to making voting more difficult for all voters, S.B. 1 is aimed directly at Latinos and Asian Americans with specific provisions that cut back on assistance to limited English-proficient voters.”
Among the S.B. 1 provisions that could make it harder for voters to cast a ballot are restrictions that limit the assistance that individuals can provide to voters who require help.
S.B. 1 will also make it harder for election workers to maintain safety and security in the polling place. The legislation will curtail election workers’ authority to remove partisan poll watchers who are harassing voters and S.B. 1 may subject election workers to prosecution if they try to limit poll watchers’ behavior.
Under S.B. 1, employees of nonprofit organizations who help people vote by mail will risk felony charges and up to two years in jail, which creates a barrier for elderly voters and voters with disabilities. For example, the legislation will make it a crime to pay someone for providing such assistance to voters or for offering, receiving, or soliciting such payment. These provisions will also restrict civic engagement activities by community-based organizations. Further, S.B. 1 will roll back voting initiatives that increased access to the ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as drive-thru voting and expanded early voting hours.
“By law, the citizens of Texas all have the same right to vote, regardless of race or disability. But with S.B. 1, the legislature is undermining equal access to the ballot box,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, Acting Director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The myriad restrictions in their legislation will be felt most by Latino, Black, and Asian American voters, voters with disabilities, and elderly voters. These new impediments to voting have no legitimate purpose in keeping Texas elections fair and secure. The court must strike down this shameful legislation.”
In addition, S.B. 1 will limit the ability of election officials to do their job. For example, the complaint argues that Harris County Election Administrator Isabel Longoria’s First Amendment speech would be restricted under the bill’s anti-solicitation provision, which makes it a crime for her to encourage individuals who are eligible or may be eligible to apply to vote by mail.
Plaintiffs include the Anti-Defamation League Austin, Southwest, and Texoma Regions; FIEL Houston; Friendship-West Baptist Church; Harris County Election Administrator Isabel Longoria; Jolt Action; James Lewin, an election judge; La Unión Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE); Mexican American Bar Association of Texas; Southwest Voter Registration Education Project; Texas HOPE; Texas Impact; and William C. Velasquez Institute.
Additional counsel for Isabel Longoria provided by the Harris County Attorney’s Office.
The complaint and more information about the lawsuit can be found here.
Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the “law firm of the Latino community,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org.
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law is an independent, nonpartisan law and policy organization that works to reform, revitalize, and when necessary, defend our country’s systems of democracy and justice. For more information on the Brennan Center, please visit: www.brennancenter.org.