Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the state’s restrictive voting bill into law Tuesday after it was passed last week by the state legislature—and a flood of lawsuits had already been filed aiming to strike the law down even less than an hour after it was signed.
Abbott signed Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) into law, which imposes such restrictions on voting as prohibiting drive-through voting, 24-hour polling places and sending out unsolicited mail-in ballot applications; imposing voter ID requirements for mail-in ballots and criminalizing ballots being submitted by third parties, which Republicans refer to as “ballot harvesting.”
Two lawsuits had already been filed in federal court against the bill even before it was signed, brought by voter advocacy groups, community organizations and the elections administrator in Harris County, among others.
Those lawsuits allege SB 1 violates federal law including the Voting Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Civil Rights Act and the First, 14th and 15th Amendments, with one lawsuit slamming the voting bill’s alleged “cruel targeting of vulnerable voters and community organizations.”
Minutes after Abbott’s signed SB 1 into law, LULAC Texas, Voto Latino, the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans and the Texas AFT brought a third federal lawsuit challenging the law, which alleges violations of the Voting Rights Act and the First and 14th Amendments.
Two NAACP-backed lawsuits were then filed against the law, one of which was brought by the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and other groups in state court and one which the NAACP Legal Defense Fund brought on behalf of several Houston-based organizations and the Delta Sigma Theta sorority in federal court.
The lawsuits all argue the law’s provisions that restrict voter access illegally suppress votes from vulnerable populations—particularly voters of color—though some of the lawsuits also argue the law violates the rights of other groups including voters with disabilities and elderly voters.
“The Legislature enacted SB 1 not to preserve election integrity or combat election fraud—after all the state’s own election officials have acknowledged that elections in Texas are already secure—but rather to stem the growing tide of minority voter participation by weaponizing the false, repeatedly debunked accusations of widespread voter fraud advanced by supporters of former President Donald Trump during the 2020 presidential election,” plaintiffs alleged in the lawsuit filed Tuesday by LULAC Texas and other groups, which is backed by Democratic Party voting rights attorney Marc Elias.
“I feel extremely confident that when this law makes it through the litigation phase, it will be upheld in a court of law,” Abbott said Tuesday after signing the bill, claiming that “no one who is eligible to vote will be denied the opportunity to vote.” The law “does however make it harder for cheaters to cast an illegal ballot,” Abbott added. “Those are the kinds of principles that the courts will uphold.”
Though SB 1 has been widely criticized for its restrictions on voting, the law also has several measures that are more beneficial to voter access, including allowing voters to cure their ballots to ensure they’re counted if there are any deficiencies and expanding hours for early voting.
What We Don’t Know
How the legal challenges will hold up in court after the U.S. Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act earlier this year. The high court upheld restrictive voting laws in Arizona that critics alleged were racially discriminatory and imposed a more restrictive test for determining whether voting laws violate the Voting Rights Act, which could affect the Texas lawsuits and their allegations that SB 1 violates the federal law. The Supreme Court ruling also stated that wanting to prevent voter fraud is a “strong and entirely legitimate state interest” that justifies voting restrictions—despite such fraud being exceedingly rare—which Abbott has said is the state’s intention with SB 1’s restrictions.
SB 1 is part of a broader trend of GOP lawmakers imposing new restrictions on voting nationwide in the wake of the 2020 election. The Texas law has proved particularly contentious, however, as Texas Democrats in the state legislature initially blocked the bill’s passage in the House by first walking out of the chamber as it was first put up for a vote in May, and then leaving the state entirely to block the bill’s passage after Abbott called a separate special session so it could pass. Enough Democrats returned for the chamber to ultimately regain its quorum on August 19, and the voting bill passed the state legislature on August 31.
From polls to ballots, here’s what a new Texas voting law means for you (Austin American-Statesman)