AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Biden administration on Thursday sued Texas over new voting rules that outlasted a summer of dramatic protests by Democrats, who face fading hopes of overhauling the nation’s election laws in response to a wave of new restrictions in Republican-led states.
The lawsuit does not challenge the entirety of a sweeping measure signed in September by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas, which already has some of the nation’s toughest voting rules. It instead targets provisions surrounding mail-in voting requirements and voter assistance, which the Justice Department argues violate federal civil rights protections.
“Our democracy depends on the right of eligible voters to cast a ballot and to have that ballot counted,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said. ”The Justice Department will continue to use all the authorities at its disposal to protect this fundamental pillar of our society.”
Opponents of the Texas law known as Senate Bill 1 had already sued the state, accusing Republicans of setting out to disenfranchise minorities and other Democratic-leaning voters.
Abbott and other Texas Republicans say the changes provide safeguards against voter fraud, which is rare.
“Biden is coming after Texas for SB1, our recently enacted election integrity law,” Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted. 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 legislation in Texas set off a summer of walkouts by Democrats, for which Republicans threatened them with arrest, and Abbott vetoed the paychecks of thousands of rank-and-file staffers when the bill failed to reach him sooner. At one point, more than 50 Democratic lawmakers decamped to Washington, bringing the Texas Capitol to a grinding halt for 38 days.
Democrats had hoped to pressure Congress into passing new voting rights protections at the federal level. Both those efforts have stalled, including another attempt Wednesday.
Texas is among at least 18 states that have enacted new voting restrictions since the 2020 election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The laws are part of a national GOP campaign, including in Florida, Georgia and Arizona, to tighten voting laws in the name of security, partly driven by former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen.
Trump has called on Abbott to audit the election results in Texas, even though he won the state.