DoJ sues Texas over new voting law, saying restrictions violate civil rights

The Biden administration filed a federal lawsuit challenging Texas’s new voting law on Thursday, saying some of the state’s new restrictions violate key civil rights laws.

The suit takes aim at two specific provisions in the Texas law that deal with providing assistance to voters at the polls and mail-in voting, respectively.

The first measure restricts the kind of assistance people can provide at the polls to voters, blocking them from explaining how voting works or breaking down complex language on the ballot.

That violates a provision of the Voting Rights Act that guarantees that anyone who requires assistance because of “blindness, disability, or inability to read or write” can receive assistance, the Department of Justice said.

“Prohibiting assistors from answering voters’ questions, responding to requests to clarify ballot translations, and confirming that voters with visual impairments have marked a ballot as intended will curtail fundamental voting rights without advancing any legitimate state interest,” DoJ lawyers wrote in their complaint.

The complaint targets a second provision that requires voters to provide identification information on mail-in ballot applications as well as the ballot return envelopes.

The new Texas law says that election workers have to reject the ballots if there are discrepancies in the identification provided.

The justice department said that violates a provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that says someone can’t be blocked from voting because of an error on a paper or record that is unrelated to their qualifications under state law to vote.

“Conditioning the right to cast a mail ballot on a voter’s ability to recall and recite the identification number provided on an application for voter registration months or years before will curtail fundamental voting rights without advancing any legitimate state interest,” the complaint says.

“Laws that impair eligible citizens’ access to the ballot box have no place in our democracy. Texas Senate Bill 1’s restrictions on voter assistance at the polls and on which absentee ballots cast by eligible voters can be accepted by election officials are unlawful and indefensible,” Kristen Clarke, the head of the Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement announcing the suit.

“Texas leaders must be held accountable for their blatant abuse of power in a shameless attempt to keep themselves in power,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic party.

The lawsuit comes as Joe Biden faces mounting pressure to enact federal legislation to protect voting rights.

Republicans have successfully used the filibuster four times this year to block voting rights bills in the US Senate.

The most recent filibuster came on Wednesday, when Republicans blocked a bill that would have restored a key part of the Voting Rights Act that required states with repeated evidence of voting discrimination, including Texas, to pre-clear voting laws with the federal government before they go into effect.

Nineteen states have passed 33 laws this year restricting voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. This is the second major voting rights suit Biden’s DoJ has filed this year. It sued Georgia over its sweeping new voting restrictions in June.

Many of the laws are widely understood as an effort to make it harder for minority populations and low-income people to vote.

Texas Republicans say the changes provide safeguards against voter fraud, which is exceedingly rare.

“Biden is coming after Texas for SB1, our recently enacted election integrity law,” tweeted Ken Paxton, the state’s Republican attorney general. “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 Associated Press contributed reporting

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