AUSTIN, USA — Controlled by Republicans, the Texas State Assembly on Tuesday night passed an electoral reform that restricts access to voting in the state, defeating months of Democratic opposition efforts to block it. The measure, which only needs the signature of fellow Republican Governor Greg Abott to take effect, effectively makes the state one of the most difficult places to vote in the United States. The law prohibits polling centers from operating 24 hours a day, imposes new requirements for voting by mail and tightens conditions for voter identification in a country where there is no national identity document.
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The move came after then-President Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election and his subsequent crusade to try to reverse the popular choice, under the false argument that there had been widespread fraud. Trump’s offensive ended up being blocked by the courts and state electoral authorities, which led to rifts in his own Republican Party.
The focus of the passed law is Harris County, the third-largest in the country and a Democratic stronghold that encompasses the city of Houston, where last year a series of measures were implemented to facilitate voting during the Covid-19 pandemic. Republicans nevertheless maintained their three-decade dominance of the state in both the presidential election and the Congressional vote in Washington.
Advocates argue that the measures are needed to strengthen the security of the electoral process, although there is no evidence of systematic irregularities or fraud. In a statement, Gov. Greg Abbott said the bill “will solidify confidence in the outcome of our elections, making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”
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For its opponents and civil rights groups, however, the legislation is intended to limit access to the vote for minority groups and young people, who tend to vote massively for the Democrats. According to President Joe Biden, this is an “attack on democracy”.
The new law grants broad autonomy to election observers and increases punishments for errors or crimes committed by election officials. Rather than requiring evidence that fraud directly resulted in a candidate’s victory, it allows courts to void an election if the number of votes deemed fraudulent equals the winning margin, regardless of who those votes were cast.
It also prohibits the automatic sending of postal ballots, including for the elderly, and imposes a new barrier for those who need help to vote, including translations. The restriction is particularly significant in a state whose population is on the way to being mostly Latino in this decade, and where nine out of ten new residents identify themselves as non-white.
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This year alone, according to a survey by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, 18 states have passed 30 laws to make it difficult to vote in the country — measures that critics say are one of the biggest violations of the rights guaranteed by the historic Law of Law. 1965. Democrats are trying to pass federal legislation to block the measures, but they run into a senate split down the middle.
The Texan case, where hundreds of polling stations have been closed since parts of the 1965 legislation were scrapped eight years ago, gained worldwide prominence through resistance from the Democratic minority in the state assembly. For months, opposition lawmakers refused to appear in the plenary, meaning that there was not the necessary quorum of 100 deputies for the matter to be brought to a vote.
“We knew we couldn’t avoid this day forever,” said Rep. Chris Turner, the minority leader, in a statement on Thursday. “Now that he has arrived, we need the US Senate to act immediately.”
Democrats barred voting in the Texan Assembly for the first time in May, when they left the session just over half an hour before the voting deadline. In July, 57 members of the Assembly sailed to Washington, once again preventing the necessary quorum of 100 parliamentarians. The Democrats, however, knew they could not stop the vote forever.
On Jan. 12, when there was no quorum for the third time, House Speaker Dade Phelan signed arrest warrants against 52 Democratic congressmen after the floor passed a motion to search out those out of state. Refusing to participate in a state legislative session is a violation of Assembly rules. It is, however, an administrative infraction and, in practice, the most that could happen to the Democrats was to be forced to attend the plenary. (With El País)