Baltimore Sun

Texas governor signs new voting restrictio­ns into law

- By Paul J. Weber and LM Otero

TYLER, Texas — Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an elections overhaul into law Tuesday that adds more voting restrictio­ns in the booming state, after Democrats spent months protesting what they say are efforts to weaken minority turnout and preserve the GOP’s eroding dominance.

Abbott signed the sweeping changes during a ceremony in the East Texas city of Tyler, where the surroundin­g county went for former President Donald Trump by a more than 2-to-1 margin last year. But it was far closer in Texas overall, with Trump carrying the state by 5 ½ points, the thinnest margin of victory by a GOP presidenti­al nominee here in decades.

The bill signing again underlined the hard right turn Texas Republican­s made this year, including a new state law that took effect last week banning most abortions.

Abbott said he chose Tyler because it was home to the voting bill’s main author, Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes, who also authored the new abortion restrictio­ns.

Already, the rewrite of Texas’ voting laws are the target of at least three federal lawsuits — including another filed Tuesday — and all contend the changes will have a disproport­ionate impact on minorities. Abbott and other Republican­s say it expands access by increasing the minimum number of early voting hours, but the law also puts new restrictio­ns on latenight voting.

“I feel extremely confident that when this law makes it through the litigation

phase, it will be upheld,” Abbott said. “Because exactly what we’ve said, it does make it easier for people to be able to go vote. No one who is eligible to vote will be denied the opportunit­y to vote.”

Texas is among at least 18 states that have enacted new voting restrictio­ns since the 2020 election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

The laws are part of a national GOP campaign, including in Arizona, Florida and Georgia, to tighten voting laws in the name of security, partly driven by Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen.

Opponents did not wait for Abbott’s signature to begin filing lawsuits against the new Texas law known as Senate Bill 1.

The American Civil Liberties Union, minority rights groups and disability advocates are part of a broad coalition that filed separate lawsuits last week in federal court in Texas, accusing Republican lawmakers of violating the federal Voting Rights Act and intentiona­lly discrimina­ting against minorities.

Some changes squarely take aim at Harris County in the Houston area, where President Joe Biden carried the county of 1.6 million voters last year by a 13-point margin. Amid the COVID19 pandemic last year, Harris County elections officials offered 24-hour polling places and drivethru voting, which are now outlawed under the new law.

The county also tried sending mail-in ballot applicatio­ns to more than 2 million registered voters, but going forward in Texas, any elections official who tries sending an applicatio­n to someone who doesn’t request one could face criminal charges.

Partisan poll watchers are now also entitled to more movement, and election judges who obstruct them could also face criminal penalties, which Democrats argue could lead to voter intimidati­on.

“Black votes were suppressed today. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has intentiona­lly signed away democracy for so many. We are disgusted,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement.

 ?? LM OTERO/AP ?? Texas Gov Greg Abbott, right and state Sen. Bryan Hughes pose for photos after Abbott signed Senate Bill 1, also known as the election integrity bill, into law.
LM OTERO/AP Texas Gov Greg Abbott, right and state Sen. Bryan Hughes pose for photos after Abbott signed Senate Bill 1, also known as the election integrity bill, into law.

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