Sept 7 (Reuters) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed a law imposing a series of voting restrictions – the latest such measure enacted in a Republican-led U.S. state – and civil rights groups immediately filed suit to challenge its legality.
During a signing ceremony in the East Texas city of Tyler, Abbott said the voting restrictions are intended to combat voter fraud, while critics contend they are aimed at making it harder for minorities who tend to back Democratic candidates to cast ballots.
It is the latest in numerous laws passed this year in Republican-led states creating new barriers to voting following Republican former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud.
The Texas law makes it tougher to cast ballots through the mail by preventing officials from sending unsolicited mail-in ballot applications and adding new identification requirements for such voting. It also prohibits drive-through and 24-hour voting locations, limits early voting, empowers partisan poll-watchers and restricts who can help voters requiring assistance because of disabilities or language barriers.
Abbott and other Texas Republicans have said that the measure balances election integrity with ease of voting.
“It ensures that every eligible voter will have the opportunity to vote,” Abbott said at the signing ceremony. “It does also, however, make sure that it is harder for people to cheat at the ballot box in Texas.”
Civil rights organizations challenged the law in three separate lawsuits filed on Tuesday in federal and state court in Texas.
Plaintiffs in two federal lawsuits, filed in San Antonio and the state capital Austin, included the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans and Texas community development groups.
They said the law unduly burdens the right to vote in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First, 14th and 15th Amendments, while also saying it is intended to limit minority voters’ access to the ballot box in violation of a federal law called the Voting Rights Act.
The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a third lawsuit in state district court in Houston, arguing that the law violates provisions of the Texas Constitution protecting the rights to vote, freedom of speech and expression, due process and equal protection under law.
The measure won final approval in the Republican-controlled state legislature on Aug. 31 in a special legislative session. Passage came after dozens of Democratic lawmakers fled the state on July 12 to break the legislative quorum, delaying action for more than six weeks.
Election experts have said voting fraud is rare in the United States. Democratic opponents of the Texas measure said Republican legislators during debate over the measure presented no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has likened the voting restrictions enacted in Republican-led states to the so-called Jim Crow laws that once disenfranchised Black voters in Southern states. Democrats in the U.S. Congress have not mustered the votes to pass national voting rights legislation that would counter the new state laws.
Democrats and voting rights advocates have said that the Texas legislation disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic voters – important voting blocs for Democrats – a claim denied by its Republican backers.
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa called the law “a racist, anti-democracy bill that will cement Texas’s ranking as the hardest state in the country to vote in.” Hinojosa called Abbott “a would-be dictator who will do anything to cling to power, even at the expense of the voices of millions of Texans and the future of our democracy.”
Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by Will Dunham
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