The Biden administration launched a court challenge Thursday to Texas’ recently-enacted election law, alleging that portions of the legislation dealing with mail-in balloting requirements and voter assistance violate federal civil rights law.
“Our democracy depends on the right of eligible voters to cast a ballot and to have that ballot counted,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “The Justice Department will continue to use all the authorities at its disposal to protect this fundamental pillar of our society.”
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law into effect in September following a months-long political tussle that came to a head in July, when dozens of state Democratic lawmakers fled Austin on chartered flights in an effort to block consideration of the measure by preventing a quorum.
In a lawsuit filed in San Antonio federal court, the Justice Department took issue with two provisions in the law. The first requires people assisting disabled or illiterate voters to swear an oath that includes acknowledging a penalty of perjury and removing language requiring them to answer any questions a voter may have.
According to the Justice Department, the revised oath “restricts the core right to meaningful assistance in the voting booth … [and] will curtail fundamental voting rights without advancing any legitimate state interest.”
The federal government is also challenging the law’s requirement that mail-in ballots include a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number, which the DOJ says is “not material to determining whether a voter meets State law qualifications to vote or to cast a mail ballot.”
According to the Biden administration, those affected by the mail-in provision include voters who don’t speak English, the elderly, military members serving overseas and Texans living outside the US.
“These vulnerable voters already confront barriers to the ballot box, and SB 1 will exacerbate the challenges they face in exercising their fundamental right to vote,” the DOJ’s filing said, using the official name of the law.
The lawsuit filed Thursday does not challenge other portions of the law opposed by Democrats, such as bans on 24-hour polling places and drive-through voting.
Abbott responded to the lawsuit by tweeting: “Bring it.“
“The Texas election integrity law is legal,” the governor added. “It INCREASES hours to vote. It does restrict illegal mail ballot voting. Only those who qualify can vote by mail. It also makes ballot harvesting a felony. In Texas it is easier to vote but harder to cheat.”
“Biden is coming after Texas for SB1, our recently enacted election integrity law,” chimed in state Attorney General Ken Paxton. “It’s a great and a much-needed bill. Ensuring Texas has safe, secure, and transparent elections is a top priority of mine. I will see you in court, Biden!”
The bill was originally meant to be considered at the end of the Texas legislature’s regular session in May, but Democratic state representatives thwarted that possibility by staging a mass walkout.
Abbott responded by calling a special session beginning July 8. Four days later, more than 50 Texas House members flew to Washington, DC to draw attention to the bill and advocate for the passage of federal voting laws.
After repeated threats from Abbott to call additional special sessions — as well as have the rogue lawmakers arrested and forced to sit in the Capitol when they returned to Texas — Democrats quietly began tricking back to Texas, with the state House reaching its 100-member quorum on Aug. 19.
SB 1 cleared the Texas Legislature Aug. 31 and Abbott signed it into law a week later.
With Thursday’s lawsuit and Monday’s Supreme Court hearing over challenges to Texas’ so-called “fetal heartbeat” abortion law, the Justice Department is now attempting to overturn two of Lone Star State Republicans’ signature achievements this year.