Words By Brianna Patt
The lawsuits being levied against Texas Governor Greg Abbott may not be going in the direction you think.
On Sept. 7, Abbott signed Senate Bill 1, a bill that has been critiqued for the restrictions it places on Black, Brown and disabled voters with limits on the ability of poll place workers to help the legally blind. In response, several lawsuits have been filed against Gov. Abbott, two of which are federal lawsuits that were filed days in advance in Austin and San Antonio. In both cases, the plaintiffs argue that the shift to these new voting laws is a move to target Black, Brown and disabled communities (described as “voters of color” and “voters with disabilities” in the Austin case filing). Specifically, in the Austin filing, they point to the ways SB1 would make it more difficult to vote by mail or with the help of an assistant (i.e. a blind voter is not allowed to ask for assistance and if they are helped the assistant could be indicted for a felony). But what are the chances of SB1 being overturned by these lawsuits? According to Texas attorney Symone Redwine, it could be a hard process.
“I think, unfortunately, this [the lawsuits against Abbott] is going to have, there is going to be a difficult time overturning this law and the reason why is because Donald Trump’s supreme court that we have in place is totally for restrictive voting rights, they have shown us that time and time again,” Redwine said.
According to Redwine, voting rights were initially scaled back in 2013 during the Obama administration under their [Supreme Courts] Voting Rights Act ruling (now allowing election laws to be changed without being cleared for federal approval). After these changes were introduced, Republicans began trying to further limit the voting rights of citizens.
“Since then, the Supreme Court has either refused to hear or ruled on the side of Republican-leaning restrictions under the guise of saying, “this is to protect the integrity of the vote,” Redwine said.
So, what would give the lawsuits a chance against more restrictive, conservative courts? According to her, laws that are “facially neutral” but have a large effect on minority communities (i.e. Black and Brown communities for instance) can be overturned depending on the circumstances of the case. Redwine points to a specific case in Austin where firefighters were all provided the same exam, but the way the questions were asked disproportionately affected Black firefighters, preventing them from passing it. With Senate Bill 1 however, there is a heavier focus on protection against voter fraud.
“Whereas here, Republicans have been able to successfully argue that restrictions like the voter id restrictions are facially neutral, but they are directly connected to reducing or eliminating voter fraud,” she said.
Another way that the bill could be overturned, according to Redwine, is through targeting components of the law. The specific components that would be most effective are those that restrict hours and access to polling places, which have a “disparate” effect in Black and Latino counties. It would also have to be explained how shortened polling place hours and access will benefit the voting process.
So, what impact are these voting laws going to have if they can’t be overturned? According to Redwine, the law could have a strong bearing on the Democratic vote, which she states is the intention of the restrictions. Laws like Senate Bill 1 will lower access to voting in the larger, Democratic counties and increase access in small, rural Republican counties. Another aspect of the new voting process — including checking identification — would be monthly citizenship checks, which Redwine states are a possible violation of the Election Code and may impact voter turnout.
“It will also diminish the likelihood that certain Hispanic people will even sign up to vote if they know they’re going to be subjected to this type of thing,” Redwine said.
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According to KCEN-TV, Senate Bill 1 will go into effect prior to the 2022 primary election.