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Gov. Greg Abbott Signs Texas Voting Bill Into Law, Overcoming Democratic Quorum Breaks

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Gov. Greg Abbott signs Texas voting bill into law, overcoming Democratic quorum breaks” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Though delayed by Democratic quorum breaks, Texas has officially joined the slate of Republican states that have enacted new voting restrictions following the 2020 election.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 1, sweeping legislation that further tightens state election laws and constrains local control of elections by limiting counties’ ability to expand voting options. The governor’s signature ends months of legislative clashes and standoffs during which Democrats — propelled by concerns that the legislation raises new barriers for marginalized voters — forced Republicans into two extra legislative sessions.

SB 1 is set to take effect three months after the special legislative session, in time for the 2022 primary elections. But it could still be caught up in the federal courts. Abbott’ signature was preceded by two federal lawsuits.

While SB 1 makes some changes that could expand access, namely increasing early voting hours in smaller, mostly Republican counties, the new law otherwise restricts how and when voters cast ballots. It specifically targets voting initiatives used by diverse, Democratic Harris County, the state’s most populous, by banning overnight early voting hours and drive-thru voting — both of which proved popular among voters of color last year.

The new law will also ratchet up voting-by-mail rules in a state where the option is already significantly limited, give partisan poll watchers increased autonomy inside polling places by granting them free movement and set new rules — and criminal penalties — for voter assistance. It also makes it a state jail felony for local election officials to proactively distribute applications for mail-in ballots, even if they are providing them to voters who automatically qualify to vote by mail or groups helping get out of the vote.

“One thing that all Texans can agree [on] and that is that we must have trust and confidence in our elections. The bill that I’m about to sign helps to achieve that goal,” Abbott said before signing the bill. “The law does however make it harder for fraudulent votes to be cast.”

Abbott signed the bill surrounded by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the bill’s lead authors Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, as well as other Republican lawmakers.

Texas Republicans began the 2021 legislative session staging a sweeping legislative campaign to pass new voting restrictions and election rules, proposing significant changes to nearly the entire voting process and taking particular aim at local efforts to make voting easier. It was formally touched off by Abbott early this year when he named “election integrity” one of his emergency items for the legislative session despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Republican lawmakers framed their push for SB 1 as an effort to safeguard elections from fraud and to standardize election practices.

SB 1 makes up Republicans’ third attempt to pass the far-reaching changes to elections, denounced by advocates for voters with disabilities, voter advocacy groups and civil rights organizations with histories of fighting laws that could harm voters of color. Democrats echoed that opposition as they fled the state this summer and left the Texas House without enough members to conduct business for weeks.

In focing two special sessions, Democrats gave advocates and local election officials more time to push for fixes to the initial legislation. That included a crucial change to a portion of the law that now requires voters to provide their driver’s license number or, if they don’t have one, the last four digits of their Social Security number on applications to vote by mail and on the envelope used to return their completed ballot.

Those numbers must match the information contained in the individual’s voter record. Originally, the legislation required those numbers to match what a voter included in their voter registration application, which could have been submitted years if not decades before. Earlier this summer, the Texas secretary of state’s office indicated 2 million registered voters lacked one of the two numbers in their voter file despite their efforts to backfill that information.

As it worked toward getting the legislation across the finish line, the House also made changes Democrats had been pushing for, including requiring training for poll watchers. Republicans also ditched controversial provisions that would have restricted Sunday voting hours and made it easier for judges to overturn elections — both of which they tried to walk away from after Democrats first derailed the legislation in May during the regular legislative session.

The law already faces two legal challenges from Harris County and a coalition of community and advocacy groups that argue SB 1’s rewrite of Texas voting laws creates new hurdles and restrictions that will suppress voters and violates the U.S. Constitution and numerous federal laws.

“Egregiously, SB 1 takes particular aim at voters with disabilities, voters with limited English proficiency — who, in Texas, are also overwhelmingly voters of color — and the organizations that represent, assist, and support these voters,” the plaintiffs in one of the federal lawsuits said in their legal complaint.

Abbott’s signature Tuesday also drew a third federal lawsuit against the changes to elections in SB 1 — this one filed by Latino civil rights organizations and advocacy groups representing retired Texans and teachers.

The lawsuit also raises questions about the constitutionality of SB 1, which it argues will disproportionately impact voters of color.

“SB 1 is an arduous law designed to limit Tejanos’ ability to exercise their full citizenship,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino, in a statement. “Not only are we filing suit to protect the right to vote for all people of color, and the additional 250,000 young Latino Tejanos who will reach voting age in 2022, but to protect every Texan’s right to vote.

There are also questions whether the U.S. Department of Justice will sue Texas over the new law, as it did Georgia earlier this year after lawmakers there passed a new law to tighten elections.

It remains unclear what, if any, Congressional action could affect the new law.

House Democrats who ditched the state Capitol decamped to Washington, D.C. to lobby for movement on federal voting rights legislation that could preempt the Texas legislation. That includes a measure known as the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act that would reinstate federal safeguards for voters of color, including federal preapproval of election law changes, in states with histories of discrimination like Texas.

The legislation was voted out of the U.S. House but faces tough odds in the Senate. Still, Texas Democrats are now framing the gap between Abbott’s signature and when SB 1 goes into effect as Congress’ last chance to act to halt the changes.

“What we have left in front of us are 90 days,” state Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, said before a House vote on the bill last month. “We have 90 days from the end of this session to act. The clock is ticking.”

James Barragán contributed to this report.

Join us Sept. 20-25 at the 2021 Texas Tribune Festival. Tickets are on sale now for this multi-day celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news, curated by The Texas Tribune’s award-winning journalists. Learn more.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/01/texas-voting-bill-greg-abbott/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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BREAKING NEWS

Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss – Trump Org and Ex-CFO Weisselberg Criminal Fraud and Tax Evasion Case Will Proceed

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Former Trump Organization longtime Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg‘s request to dismiss his case on charges that include conspiracy, grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, and falsifying business records has been denied by a New York State judge. The Judge ruled Friday morning the criminal fraud and tax evasion case against Weisselberg and The Trump Organization will proceed.

“Weisselberg and the company asked a judge in February to dismiss all 15 counts charged against them. Judge Juan Merchan dismissed one of several tax fraud counts against the Trump Organization, but allowed all others to remain,” CBS News reports. “The Trump Organization and Weisselberg accused prosecutors of targeting them ‘based on political animus’ toward former President Donald Trump.”

“The Manhattan District Attorney’s office unsealed the 25-page indictment, which also named the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corp. as co-defendant, in July 2021,” Law & Crime reports.

READ MORE: Ex-Trump Org VP Recounts Being Told to Cook the Books to Reimburse for ‘Ridiculous’ Expenses

“Prosecutors accuse Weisselberg of a 15-year scheme to defraud federal, New York State, and New York City tax authorities of $1.76 million in ‘off-the-books’ compensation. These included $359,058 in tuition expenses for multiple family members, $196,245 for leases on his Mercedes Benz automobiles, $29,400 in unreported cash, and an unspecified amount in ad hoc personal expenses, according to his indictment,” Law & Crime adds.

Weisselberg, who was Trump’s top accountant, handled a large portion of his business interests, and was co-trustee of the trust set up when Trump became president, will have his next hearing September 12. Jury selection will begin October 24.

Weisselberg began working for Trump’s father, Fred Trump, in 1973.

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BREAKING NEWS

FBI Agents Searched Mar-a-Lago for ‘Classified Documents Relating to Nuclear Weapons’: Report

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Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who executed a federal search warrant at Mar-a-Lago Monday were on the hunt for “classified documents relating to nuclear weapons,” according to an exclusive Washington Post report Thursday evening.

“Experts in classified information said the unusual search underscores deep concern among government officials about the types of information they thought could be located at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and potentially in danger of falling into to the wrong hands,” The Washington Post adds.

“If that is true, it would suggest that material residing unlawfully at Mar-a-Lago may have been classified at the highest classification level,” David Laufman, the former chief of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence section, told the Post. “If the FBI and the Department of Justice believed there were top secret materials still at Mar-a-Lago, that would lend itself to greater ‘hair-on-fire’ motivation to recover that material as quickly as possible.”

READ MORE: Marco Rubio: ‘Not a Crime’ to Break Federal Law by Taking Top Secret National Security Documents From the White House

This latest development into Donald Trump’s improper and possibly unlawful handling of classified documents confirms what a former FBI special agent noted earlier this week.

“This is a nat sec/CI issue,” tweeted Asha Rangappa Tuesday morning, meaning national security and counterintelligence. Rangappa is an attorney, former FBI special agent, senior lecturer at Yale, and CNN commentator.

Also on Tuesday Rangappa tweeted: “Ask yourself: What kind of info makes its way to the WH, and specifically to the president? —> HIGH LEVEL SECRETS. PDB stuff. Defense info. These aren’t low-level diplomatic cables or overclassified State Dept. correspondence.”

This is a breaking news and developing story. 

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BREAKING NEWS

Watch: Merrick Garland Calls Trump’s Bluff, Strikes Back at MAGA World’s False Claims in Mar-a-Lago Raid

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Attorney General Merrick Garland in an exceptionally rare public statement told the American people Thursday afternoon that he personally approved the search warrant used to enter Mar-a-Lago and confiscate the 10 to 12 cartons of federal government property, which reportedly included classified documents. He also called Donald Trump’s bluff, announcing he has asked a federal court to unseal the search warrant, which will allow the public to know what laws DOJ believes he has violated.

Noting that Donald Trump made public the raid on Mar-a-Lago and the Dept. of Justice did not, Garland cited “the substantial public interest in this matter,” in announcing his move to have the documents unsealed.

“The department did not make any public statements on the day of the search,” Garland stated. “The former president publicly confirmed the search that evening, as is his right. Copies of both the warrant and the FBI property receipt were provided on the day of the search to the former president’s counsel, who was on site during the search.”

READ MORE: Nearly Half the Country Supports FBI Mar-a-Lago Search – Only Republicans Are Opposed, New Poll Shows

That statement refutes the false claims made by many on the right that FBI agents refused to hand over the search warrant or inventory list.

“The search warrant was authorized by a federal court upon the required finding of probable cause, the property receipt is a document that federal law requires law enforcement agents to leave with the property owner,” he added, making clear that a federal judge did agree there was probably cause to execute a search.

“Faithful adherence to the rule of law is the bedrock principle of the Justice Department and of our democracy. upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly, without fear or favor, under my watch that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing. All Americans are entitled to the even handed application of the law, to due process of the law and to the presumption of innocence.”

“I personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant in this matter,” Garland announced, which was largely assumed.

Garland also responded to the growing chorus of far right wing extremists, pundits, and even and GOP lawmakers who are attacking DOJ.

“Let me address recent unfounded attacks on the professionalism of the FBI and Justice Department agents and prosecutors. I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked. The men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated, patriotic public servants every day. They protect the American people from violent crime, terrorism and other threats to their safety, while safeguarding our civil rights. They do so at great personal sacrifice and risk to themselves. I am honored to work alongside them. This is all I can say right now.”

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