A federal trial is unfolding over whether a 2021 voting rights law in the state violates the U.S. Constitution.
The suit — brought on behalf of La Union del Pueblo, or LUPE, and other groups — argues that certain provisions of Texas Senate Bill 1 have made voting more difficult, especially for less-educated, non-English-speaking and disabled populations in need of voting assistance.
The trial began on Sept. 11 and is expected to continue for the next few weeks.
S.B. 1 further empowers partisan poll watchers and further enhances ID requirements for voting by mail. It also bans balloting methods that places like Harris County, the third most populous county in the U.S. and the largest in Texas, implemented in response to COVID-19, such as drive-through and 24-hour voting.
Harris County, home to Houston, has increasingly voted Democratic in the last decade — at the same time that Texas, while still often voting Republican, has shifted to be less conservative in federal elections.
Additionally, S.B. 1 prevents election officials from promoting vote by mail or distributing unsolicited absentee ballots.
Mail voting has been criticized by some conservatives, like former President Donald Trump, even as it has become more common since the pandemic. Trump and others claim, without evidence, that it’s more vulnerable to widespread fraud.
The new suit challenges these and other provisions. In their complaint, LUPE claims S.B. 1 violates the U.S. Constitution’s first, 14th and 15th amendments as well as the Voting Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act.
Texas Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Republican, authored the bill, characterizing it as an effort to “protect election integrity” and “prevent fraud.”
In an August 2021 post to the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s website, Hughes wrote, “I’m proud to have helped lead the effort to restore confidence in our election system. And that’s what SB 1 is about, really—it’s not an attempt to overturn any prior election, or to ensure any one party has a permanent majority.”
Hughes wrote that the new identification requirements were the “biggest change in voting in Texas” under the bill. He characterized that specific provision as “the addition of a simple step to help ensure that mail-in ballots are genuine.”
But lawyers for the plaintiffs, like Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), believe S.B.1 really accomplishes something else.
“It instead restricts the ability to vote in Texas,” Perales said.
Sean Morales-Doyle, an attorney for The Brennan Center, which is representing LUPE, told ABC News that negative repercussions from the bill are already being seen and were apparent in the 2022 local elections, when “tens of…