Justice Department sues Texas, says state's overhaul of voting laws violates Civil Rights Act

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The Justice Department on Thursday sued Texas over a recently enacted voting law that the Biden administration argues will disenfranchise voters.

In the complaint, the department claims certain provisions of Senate Bill 1, which was signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Sept. 7, unlawfully restrict voting assistance and mail-in ballot materials. 

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas against the State of Texas and Texas Secretary of State John Scott. 

The Department of Justice claims parts of the law will disenfranchise voters with limited English proficiency and disabilities, as well as elderly voters, members of the military deployed away from home and Americans who live outside the country.

“These vulnerable voters already confront barriers to the ballot box, and SB 1 will exacerbate the challenges they face in exercising their fundamental right to vote,” the department said.

The DOJ claims the law denies voters “meaningful” assistance in the voting booth because it bars voting assistant providers from answering basic questions, paraphrasing complex language and confirming that voters with visual impairments have marked a ballot as intended. 

Under the law, the providers are only permitted to read or mark the ballot, or to tell the voter to read or mark the ballot, which the DOJ says “constrains assistance” to voters. 

The department claims it violates the Voting Rights Act which mandates that those who need help to vote due to visual impairment, a disability or inability to read or write, must be able to receive assistance from a person of their choice.

The DOJ also takes issue with a provision requiring mail ballot materials to be rejected if they do not have the same identification numbers as those on the voter’s registration. 

According to the 18-page complaint, some voters may not have the necessary identification numbers from their voter registration application because they may have lost their driver’s license or thrown out an old identification card, among other things.

The provision, it said, violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits the rejection of mail-in ballot materials with errors if they are not material in determining whether the person is qualified to vote under state law.

The DOJ wants the court to enjoin the state from enforcing the provisions and to grant additional relief “as the interests of justice may require.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement on Thursday that “Our democracy depends on the right of eligible voters to cast a ballot and to have that ballot counted.”

The Washington Times sent a request for comment on Thursday to Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

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