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Here’s what’s in Texas Republicans’ new voting law

Wednesday, September 8, 2021 by Ashley Lopez, KUT

Editor’s Note: Senate Bill 1, Texas’ restrictive new voting bill, was the law of the Lone Star State for barely an hour when civil rights groups launched a slew of lawsuits aimed at striking down the law. A federal lawsuit filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund says the law “intentionally targets and burdens methods and means of voting used by voters of color,” while a joint lawsuit by LULAC, Voto Latino, Texas American Federation of Teachers and the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans charges that the provisions of SB 1 are “purposely intended to limit minority voters’ access to the ballot box.” Even before the law was signed, a complaint was filed in Austin Friday on behalf of five plaintiffs including REV UP Texas and the League of Women Voters of Texas, saying SB 1 creates “a litany of needless hurdles to voting.” Read on to learn exactly what the new voting law does and who it will affect. 

Sweeping new voting restrictions are now law in Texas a state that already had some of the most restrictive election rules in the country.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the measure into law on Tuesday. In a statement last week, Abbott said, “Senate Bill 1 will solidify trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

The GOP effort to pass its omnibus voting legislation has taken months. Texas House Democrats staged a last-minute walkout in late May to block a vote on the bill and then skipped town in July during a special session, denying Republicans a quorum to conduct legislative business. More than a month later, enough Democrats returned to the chamber so that GOP lawmakers could pass the bill along near-party lines.

The new law is part of a nationwide push by state-level Republicans to enact more restrictive voting laws following former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election. Trump and his allies have falsely claimed the election was stolen.

Here’s what’s in the Texas law:

The key provisions

The measure includes new identification requirements for people voting by mail and prohibits local election officials from sending a vote-by-mail application to someone who hasn’t requested one. Voters are also given new opportunities to correct mistakes with their mail ballots.

The law creates a slew of new criminal penalties and requirements for folks who assist voters at the polls, or people who assist others planning to vote by mail.

It also bans drive-through voting and extended voting hours. Republicans in the state argue that these innovations which officials in Harris County, home to Houston, mostly used during the pandemic opened the door to voter fraud.

James Slattery, a senior staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said voters of color and shift workers benefited the most from these methods of voting last year.

“And so you can consider the bans on those forms of voting to be a direct attack on voters of color in particular,” Slattery said in an interview over the summer.

In addition, the law expands what partisan poll watchers can observe during elections and grants them new protections.

What’s not in the new law

Texas Democrats ultimately lost the fight over the voting law, but Slattery said the walkouts and quorum breaks did indeed make the measure less restrictive.

“If one were to ask me, ‘Were the quorum breaks worth it?’ I think absolutely,” he said, “and the situation for voters in Texas would be much worse if it hadn’t happened.”

For example, provisions that would have limited voting on Sundays when Black church members often go to the polls and sections that would have made it easier to overturn elections are not part of the final law.

Those two provisions would have passed if Democrats didn’t walk out the first time back in May. And the sections were so controversial that even Republicans distanced themselves, even though they were ready to vote for them.

Democrats did lose out late on one key item, though, regarding illegal voting.

There are two high-profile cases of illegal voting in Texas, including that of Crystal Mason, who was released from federal prison but couldn’t vote because she was still on supervised release. She said she didn’t know and voted.

The provision, which had bipartisan backing, would try to prevent more people from unknowingly getting in that situation, but it was stripped out in conference committee because the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes, said it was too broad.

The case for and against the new law

Texas Republicans are cheering the new law. Hughes said it’s an effort to make elections more secure.

“How much fraud is OK? None. How much suppression is OK? None. That’s why Senate Bill 1 makes it easy to vote and makes it harder to cheat,” he said.

GOP lawmakers said the new law addresses concerns among voters about fraud even though proven cases of voter or election fraud are exceedingly rare in Texas or elsewhere.

The Texas Civil Rights Project’s Slattery has said the Republican-led measures do nothing to make elections more secure in Texas and would instead further the false claims Trump and his allies have made that the 2020 election was stolen.

“There isn’t any election security benefit to nearly any of these provisions,” he said. “It’s all in service of the big lie and enshrining the big lie even further into the laws of this most restrictive state in the country.”

Democrats, meanwhile, continue to look toward Congress for help to craft an overarching federal solution with nationwide voting standards.

That effort is stalled on Capitol Hill.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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