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Parts of a 2021 Texas election law that clamped down on helping voters with limited English skills and voters with disabilities can no longer be enforced.
A Texas federal judge issued a ruling last month overturning provisions of the new Texas law, known as Senate Bill 1, which sets limits on how people can help voters vote. . State officials had until last week to appeal the decision, but they declined. The Texas Attorney General’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Lisa Snead, a litigator with Disability Rights Texas, said the court’s decision was a big win for voters with disabilities in the state.
“The provision of SB 1 limiting assistance…really limited what voters with disabilities could receive,” she said. “And it had a serious impact on voters who tried to vote in the … elections in March and May.”
Texas’ sweeping law was among measures passed in Republican-led states across the country after the 2020 election that added new restrictions on voting.
Among its provisions, SB 1 limited assistance to only reading a voter’s ballot, marking a voter’s ballot, instructing to read the ballot, and instructing to mark the ballot.
Groups including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund went to federal court and argued that SB 1 voter assistance parties directly violated a 2018 injunction that ruled that similar limitations in the Texas election code at the time violated federal voting rights law. The court agreed and also ordered the state to change its training for election workers.
Additionally, the court prohibited Texas from including these restrictions in the language of an oath an aide must take when assisting voters. SB 1 requires people who assist voters to complete paperwork disclosing their relationship to the voter and whether they are being paid. It also requires them to recite an oath under penalty of perjury stating that they did not “pressure or coerce” the voter into choosing them to help.
Debbie Chen of the Chinese American Organization of Greater Houston, which was the plaintiff in the 2018 case, said in a statement earlier this month that SB 1 scared aides from answering voters’ questions. in the state primary elections.
“Asian American voters with limited English often need to ask questions to understand the ballot and the voting process,” Chen said. “This is especially true for the people who provide assistance to them and have to translate the ballot into English and the whole process on the spot.”
Snead said that while the court has ensured voters with disabilities receive some of the assistance they need, there are still other restrictions created by SB 1 that limit access for voters with disabilities. She said that includes a ban on drive-thru voting and restrictions on mail-in ballots.
“We’ve backed off a bit so people with disabilities have a bit of the same access they had before SB 1,” she said. “There is still a lot to do. There are still limits in place, but it’s not as bad as before.”