The complaint targets SB 1, one of the country’s most restrictive voting laws, for violating the Constitution’s First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
AUSTIN, TX (September 27, 2021) – Non-profit civic engagement organization Mi Familia Vota, along with individual voters, filed suit today in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio seeking to block a new voter suppression law enacted by the Texas Legislature.
The lawsuit challenges Texas Senate Bill No. 1 (SB 1), a law designed to suppress votes from Texans of color and other marginalized communities through measures that include prohibiting drive-through voting, limiting voting hours, making it unlawful for counties to automatically mail eligible voters mail-in ballot applications; implementing stricter rules for voting by mail; allowing election officials to reject allegedly defective ballots without notice to the voter prior to the election; implementing monthly purges of voter rolls; limiting physical and language assistance at the polls; and enabling partisan poll watchers, which creates increased risk of voter intimidation.
The law was passed on the heels of the 2020 election, which saw enormous gains in the number of Black and Latino voters in Texas, in part driven by counties like Harris County, which took actions to make voting safe and accessible, including by offering drive-through and 24-hour voting options. “Texas’s new voter suppression law, 2021 Texas Senate Bill No. 1, 87th Legislature (“SB 1”), is a calculated effort to disenfranchise voters,” the complaint reads. “If allowed to stand, the bill will unconstitutionally burden qualified voters and inevitably prevent many voters from lawfully casting their ballots in future elections.”
The plaintiffs argue that these changes to voting law in Texas create an undue burden on voters, especially those who are Black or Latino, in violation of the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They cite a pattern of voter suppression legislation in Texas throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, and they demonstrate as false Texas officials’ claim that the law is targeting “voter fraud.”
“Latinos and other voters of color came out to vote in big numbers in 2020,” said Angelica Razo, Texas State Director for Mi Familia Vota. “We saw places like Harris County come up with ways of making voting widely available and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our state should empower voters to find safe and accessible voting options. Instead, our legislators chose to suppress voters, make it harder for us to vote, and subject us to voter intimidation. Voting is a constitutional, protected right, and we are proud to continue to advocate for the voting rights of our community, so that all eligible voters are able to exercise their right to vote.”
Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives made national headlines in May when they walked out of the state capitol in response to the bill, denying Republicans the quorum needed for a vote. When the bill was reintroduced in a special session, most Democratic members of the House and a handful in the Texas Senate fled the state under threat of arrest to prevent a quorum once again. They made their way to Washington, D.C., where they met with Members of Congress to press for federal voting rights legislation. The state voter suppression bill eventually passed upon their return, during a second special session.
The defendants in this case are Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Texas Deputy Secretary of State Jose Esparza, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The plaintiffs are represented by Free Speech For People, a nonpartisan legal advocacy nonprofit dedicated to defending our democracy; the law firm of Stoel Rives; and the law firm of Lyons & Lyons. Free Speech For People filed a federal lawsuit last month in Phoenix, on behalf of Mi Familia Vota, Arizona Coalition for Change, Living United for Change in Arizona, and Chispa Arizona, to block two new Arizona laws restricting voting rights.
”SB 1 creates unconstitutional burdens on the right of Texans to vote, in an effort to block voters–and specifically voters of color–from voting and having their votes counted,” said Courtney Hostetler, Senior Counsel for Free Speech For People. “It shuts down reasonable practices that counties have implemented to increase voters’ access to the polls. It makes voters and election officials vulnerable to intimidation. And it will force certain voters to jump through costly and time-consuming hoops to remain on the voter rolls. The law violates the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
“Access to the ballot and exercise of the right to vote are the bedrock of our democracy,” said Stoel Rives Partner Wendy Olson. “Through SB 1, Texas seeks to continue its long history of discriminating against Latino and Black voters, and tries to roll back the historic turnout in the 2020 election. It’s imperative that Texas is held accountable and is forced to protect ballot access.”
“Mi Familia Vota has been working for over two decades to increase Latino voter participation,” said Sean Lyons, Partner at Lyons & Lyons. “SB 1 aims to push back the progress they and others have made for Latinos and other voters of color. We are proud to be a part of the legal team representing Mi Familia Vota and individual voters in this important case to protect the right to vote.”
Read the full complaint here.