(Trends Wide) — Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law Tuesday that imposes a series of new voting restrictions in one of the fastest growing and most diverse states.
Abbott signed Senate Bill 1 after the Republican-led Legislature passed it during the second special session the Republican governor called this year. Democrats had blocked previous versions of the measure leaving the state for weeks, preventing the House from having the necessary quorum to negotiate.
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Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic election attorney, said Texas will be sued by its new law as soon as Abbott signs it.
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Here’s a look at what the new Texas law does:
Ban 24-hour voting
In 2020, Harris County, home to Houston, opened eight locations for 24-hour early voting, an option that was popular with shift workers residing in this racially diverse county.
Counties will now be prohibited from offering 24-hour voting through a provision that limits the window in which they can offer voting services from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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The law also expands the current requirement of at least 12 hours of early voting on weekdays during the second week that is allowed to include counties with more than 55,000 residents, up from the current limit of 100,000.
Ban voting from cars
In another provision targeting Harris County, the law prohibits car voting. In 2020, as local officials searched for ways to conduct elections safely amid the coronavirus pandemic, 127,000 people in the county cast their votes at 10 centers that allowed voting from the car, including a parking lot at the Toyota. Center, the home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets.
New identification mandates for voting by mail
Texans who vote by mail – those who are over 65, out of county on Election Day, or have a disability or illness that prevents them from voting in person are eligible – will now need to provide their driver’s license number or last four digits of your Social Security number on two different occasions: on your absentee ballot request forms and on the envelope in which you return your ballots.
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Those numbers will then be compared to voter records to confirm that they are who they say they are, a change from the current signature matching process. Those whose votes are at risk of being rejected due to technical errors can make corrections online under the new law. If time is short, counties can notify voters by phone or email that they can cancel their vote-by-mail ballots and vote in person.
Prohibits officials from mailing unsolicited ballot requests
The bill would make it a crime for a public official to send someone an unsolicited mail ballot application, or to complete any part of any mail ballot application.
It also prohibits public officials from “facilitating” the unsolicited distribution of absent ballots by third parties, meaning that local election officials cannot provide ballot request forms to groups focused on encouraging cross-community voting, known as “get-out-the-vote groups“Political parties can still submit unsolicited absentee ballot requests, but they will have to pay for them, according to the law.
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Harris County tried in 2020 to send an application to each of its registered voters, but the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state election code did not allow unsolicited applications to be mailed. And some other counties sent an application to all registered voters who were 65 or older by Election Day, the only age group that is automatically eligible to vote by mail in Texas.
Empower election observers
Partisan election observers cannot be denied “free movement” in polling places under the new law, except to be able to watch a voter cast their vote at a polling station. They have the “right to sit or stand close enough to see and hear activity” at the polling place.
Election observers also have the right, under the law, to observe the closing activities of the elections, “including the sealing and transfer of a memory card, flash drive, hard disk, data storage device or other medium “, and to follow the transfer of the electoral materials to a regional tabulation center.
In a concession to Democrats, the bill requires training for poll watchers and allows those who violate the law to be kicked out of polling places without notice.
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In provisions that activists said are barriers to voting, those helping people with disabilities – other than voter caregivers – will need to fill out a document showing their name, address, and relationship to the person they helped lets vote.
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Attendees would also have to take an oath pledging to abide by certain limits on their attendance, promising only to help with “reading the ballot to the voter, offering directions to the voter to read the ballot, marking the voter’s ballot, or offering directions to the voter to mark the ballot. “
Monthly voter checks
The Texas secretary of state’s office will need to check monthly to make sure there is no one on the state’s voter list who indicated that they are not a citizen at the time of obtaining or renewing their driver’s license or identification card.