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Texas civil rights groups file lawsuit against restrictive new voting law

Texas civil rights groups file suit against restrictive new voting law

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The lawsuit says that Gov. Greg Abbott and company are trying to block voting. Courtesy photo

A coalition of community and civil rights groups in Texas has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott and company, in response to the passage of SB1, the new legislation that imposes a number of restrictions on voting in Texas. The suit contends that the restrictions will harm and disenfranchise minority voters.

Filed on September 3, the lawsuit says that SB1 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and calls it the latest chapter in Texas' "long, well-documented history of discrimination" against Latino and Black citizens in the voting and electoral processes.

The plaintiffs include La Unión Del Pueblo Entero, Friendship West Baptist Church, The Anti-Defamation League, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, Texas Impact, Mexican American Bar Association Of Texas, Texas Hispanics Organized For Political Education, Jolt Action, William C. Velasquez Institute, Fiel Houston Inc., Isabel Longoria, and James Lewin.

The suit is filed against Gov. Abbott, Secretary of State Jose Esparza, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Medina County Elections Administrator Lupe Torres.

It asks the courts for an injunction prohibiting enforcement of SB1.

SB1 went into effect on September 1. According to the lawsuit, its restrictions will suppress Texas voters and also discourage and criminalize voter assistance that has long been performed by public employees, private organizations, and individuals to help get the vote out.

Abbott pushed for this legislation with the excuse that it was necessary to prevent voter fraud. But the lawsuit says there is no evidence of voter fraud beyond a few examples already identified through Texas' pre-existing processes and procedures.

According to the suit, Paxton's office spent 22,000 staff hours investigating voter fraud in the 2020 election, but found 16 minor offenses out of more than 11 million ballots cast. That means about 99.999 percent of ballots were cast without any allegation or proof of fraud.

They quote Texas Representative Diego Bernal, who testified before the Congressional subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on July 29, that there have been 154 prosecutions of voter fraud out of 94 million votes cast in the past 17 years in Texas. "The likelihood of voter fraud in Texas is less than any one of us being struck by lightning," Bernal said.

The lawsuit contends that the actual motive behind SB1 is to make it harder for citizens of color and citizens with disabilities to cast their votes through its restrictions on voter assistance — people who help voters with transportation, translation, and other practical skills.

It puts pressure on the people doing the assisting, with intimidating language about their standing and relationship with voters they're assisting.

That includes making it a crime to compensate people who work for nonprofit groups and who conduct voter outreach from assisting mail voters, or who drive voters to polling places.

The lawsuit calls Texas voting procedures "among the most onerous in the country." The state has reduced the number of polling stations in some areas by more than 50 percent and has what they call "the most restrictive pre-registration law in the country."

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