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Politics

Gov. Greg Abbott Signs Controversial Voting Bill Into Law

A person holds early voting ballots in yellow envelopes.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA News
Mail-in ballots that are dropped off must be received by an election official, curtailing ballot drop-off boxes.

Republicans in Texas achieved one of their major 2021 goals on Tuesday, as Gov. Greg Abbott signed a controversial and expansive bill that imposes major restrictions on how people can vote in the state.

“The Texas law does make it easier than ever before for anybody to go cast a ballot,” Abbott said at a bill signing in Tyler, Texas. “It does also, however, make sure that it is harder for people to cheat at the ballot box.”

Abbott was flanked by the bill’s authors in the House and Senate: Rep. Andrew Murr of Junction, Tyler Sen. Bryan Hughes and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. GOP officials never demonstrated evidence of widespread voter fraud during the months-long back-and-forth about the legislation.

Civil rights groups have already filed lawsuits.

“Today marks an inexplicable rollback of policies implemented to keep Texans safe and healthy during the pandemic and to equalize the freedom to vote, particularly for voters of color, people with disabilities and folks who are more comfortable speaking a language other than English," said Mimi Marziani, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, in a statement.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, challenging the bill minutes after Gov. Abbott signed it into law.

LULAC is asking a federal court to block the new voting restrictions. Other plaintiffs include Voto Latino, the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans, and the Texas American Federation of Teachers.

They argue the bill is unconstitutional and will have a disproportionate impact on Hispanic and Black voters.

​"We know what this is all about. It's about making sure that Black and Brown people don't vote in Texas," said LULAC President Domingo Garcia. "It's about taking away Americans' and Texans' right to vote."  

Abbott, at the Tyler bill signing, said he wasn’t worried about the legal challenges.

“We’ve seen it happen whenever laws like this are passed, the first thing the Democrats do is they run to the courthouse and try to challenge it,” the governor said. “I feel extremely confident that when this law makes it through the litigation phase, it will be upheld.”

Here Are Some Highlights Of What The New Law Does:

  • Bans 24-hour voting, an option first used by Harris County in the 2020 election. Early voting cannot happen before 6 a.m. or after 10 p.m.
  • Requires voting take place inside a building, forbidding the use of outdoor tents. Drive-through voting is explicitly limited to people who are “physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.”
  • Expands the number of polling hours from eight to nine and requires counties with over 1,000 voters to allow voting on early voting days.
  • Local election officials are banned from sending out mail-in ballot applications to people who have not requested them.
  • Counties with more than 100,000 people are required to implement a video surveillance system to record and livestream ballot counting.
  • Requires the Secretary of State to provide an online training program for partisan poll watchers.
  • Forbids the people running a polling place from removing a partisan poll watcher unless an election judge or clerk has witnessed the watcher violate the election of penal code. Barring a watcher “when acceptance of the watcher is required” is a Class A misdemeanor.
  • Allows poll watchers “free movement” where election activity is happening, although they cannot communicate with voters.
  • Mail-in ballots that are dropped off must be received by an election official, curtailing ballot drop-off boxes.

Texas is the latest of several Republican-led states that have passed restrictive voting measures after the 2020 election.

Texas’ bill came after Harris County used voting innovations in 2020 like 24-hour voting and expanded drive-through voting. Civil rights groups said rolling back voting options after they are used is akin to voter suppression.

Democrats in the state House fled to Washington, D.C. to break quorum and prevent the bill’s passage, but ultimately returned and tried to minimize its impact. James Slattery of the Texas Civil Rights Project told KUT the walkout was “absolutely” worth it.

The final bill did not have a couple of provisions that made it into the version that passed a conference committee during the regular session. Those would've made it harder for groups to host “souls to the polls” drives on Sundays and allowed judges to throw out an election.

The Texas Newsroom's Becky Fogel contributed to this report.

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Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at bjaspers@kera.org. You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.