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Trial underway over Texas’ GOP voting restrictions that prompted walkout from Dems in 2021

Members of the the Delta Sigma Theta sorority at the federal courthouse in San Antonio on Sept. 11, 2023.
Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
Members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. at the federal courthouse in San Antonio on Sept. 11, 2023.

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Voting rights advocates hoped a federal judge in San Antonio will strike down more than 30 provisions of Senate Bill 1, which the Texas Legislature passed in 2021.

The law places stronger requirements on voting by mail and eliminates drive-thru voting and24-hour polling locations — all of which plaintiffs say diminishes the voting rights of voters of color and people with disabilities.

Nina Perelas, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said SB1 has a measurable impact on making voting more difficult.

Two priority bills for Texas Republicans — Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3 — would ban drive-thru and 24-hour voting, makes mail-in voting more difficult, increase criminal penalties for voting mistakes, and give partisan poll watchers more authority at voting sites.

“By restricting voter assistance SB1 is making it harder for limited proficient voters to bring their chosen person, whether it's a family member, or a neighbor to come and help them vote at the polling place,” she said.

S.B. 1 criminalizes certain types of voting assistance and certain types of political speech in the physical presence of a ballot. The lawsuit claimed several provisions in S.B. 1 violated the Voting Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the U.S. Constitution.

An attorney for the state declined to comment to TPR. During opening arguments, Ryan Kercher, representing the state, said the right to vote is a fundamental art of democracy, but so is the responsibility to ensure every vote is legitimate.

The legislation was criticized by Democrats and voting rights advocates as "voter suppression." Republicans view it as "sensible election integrity legislation."

S.B. 1 was the subject of much contention from Democrats who fled the state to Washington D.C. during a special legislative session in July 2021 to break quorum and keep the bill from being voted on.

It passed during a second special session in September of that year and became law three months later, just months before the March primary election.

Bexar County’s election officials told TPR that provisions in the 2021 bill made that primary very difficult to administer and the complaints have been ongoing since.

A new Texas election law is making it harder for eligible voters to vote from home.

Plaintiffs include the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters, La Unión Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), and the Historically Black Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., among many other groups.

The trial was expected to last several weeks.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules