Abbott Signs Controversial GOP "Election Integrity" Bill Into Law

State Sen. Bryan Hughes and Gov. Greg Abbott were all smiles in East Texas Tuesday.
State Sen. Bryan Hughes and Gov. Greg Abbott were all smiles in East Texas Tuesday. Screenshot
After Labor Day weekend, Gov. Greg Abbott got right back to work by signing into law Senate Bill 1, the Republican-backed slate of election changes that he and his supporters proclaim as a defense against voter fraud and critics say is nothing but a way to make it harder for minorities, the disabled and Democrats to vote.

With a stroke of his pen Tuesday, Abbott — determined to keep Texas in the Red State column — capped off months of legislative warfare from quorum-breaking Democrats and GOP lawmakers hellbent on adding new restrictions to voting in the Lone Star State. As of Tuesday afternoon, the newly signed law was facing four separate lawsuits across the state from Democrat-aligned groups and civil rights organizations.

“One thing that all Texans can agree [on] 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 claimed.

Abbott was flanked at the Tuesday bill signing by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the two legislators who helped push the bill through during the second special session: state Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Kerrville) who sponsored the bill in the House, and state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Minneola), the original bill’s author. House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) wasn’t present; Phelan tweeted it was because he chose “carpool duty” taking his sons to school over attending, and that he was “sorry to have missed the event.”

The decision to hold the bill signing ceremony in Tyler was no coincidence — not only is the city in Hughes’ home district, but East Texas is full of the kind of deep-red, rural communities whose votes Abbott and his allies are desperate to keep in their columns to offset the rising Democratic tide in major metropolitan areas including Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin. It's political contests in these cities that have given Republicans running statewide in the past few election cycles some of their closest races in years.

Abbott and his allies repeatedly uttered slight variations of the drumbeat mantra echoed by state Republicans over the past several months that the bill makes it “easier to vote and harder to cheat” in Texas. There was nary a mention of former President Donald Trump, although the wave of new voting laws in Republican-led states over the past year have followed Trump’s repeated insistence that voter fraud cost him his seat in the White House.

Even though the new law does slightly expand the minimum number of required early voting hours in Texas, it also still prohibits 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting programs used in Harris County during the pandemic. The law also gives partisan poll watchers new protections while stiffening penalties for mistakes folks might make when assisting disabled voters with casting their absentee ballots.

Those changes, Democrats argue, will disproportionately affect Texan voters of color and disabled Texans. House Democrats successfully killed previous versions of the bill with coordinated walkout efforts to much fanfare over the past several months, but enough Democrats broke ranks and headed back to Austin in mid-August to finally allow the Texas House enough votes to pass the voting bill and other legislation.

The GOP election bill was already facing two lawsuits from progressive and Democratic critics over how it adds allegedly unconstitutional burdens to voting before Abbott signed it on Tuesday. One of the suits was filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Brennan Center for Justice in San Antonio federal district court, and another was filed in federal court in Austin by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project last week.

Mere minutes after Abbott signed the law, two additional lawsuits were filed: another in San Antonio by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense Fund and one more in Austin filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Abbott mocked the legal fights against the new election restrictions Tuesday. “I’d be astonished if a law like this was not challenged in court. We’ve seen it happen whenever laws like this are passed,” Abbott said. “The first thing the Democrats do is they run to the courthouse and try to challenge it.”

“We’ve seen it happen whenever laws like this are passed.The first thing the Democrats do is they run to the courthouse and try to challenge it.” - Gov. Greg Abbott

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“I feel extremely confident that when this law makes it through the litigation phase, it will be upheld in a court of law,” he continued.

One Texan who’s praying that isn’t the case is former U.S. Congressman and Texas Democrats’ unofficial mascot Beto O’Rourke, whose Powered by People grassroots organization has been trying for months to fight back against the new election bill.

“Governor Abbott is restricting the freedom to vote for millions of Texans. Instead of working on issues that actually matter, like protecting school kids from COVID or fixing our failed electrical grid, Abbott is focused on rigging our elections and implementing extreme, right-wing policies,” O’Rourke said Tuesday.

“Abbott’s agenda of criminalizing abortion, permitless carry, anti-mask mandates and voter suppression is killing Texans and limiting their voting rights to elect more responsible leaders,” he continued.

Whether or not O’Rourke himself will be one of those “more responsible” options on the ballot for governor come November 2022 is still unclear. The former foe of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and failed 2020 presidential candidate, O’Rourke remains the highest-profile Democrat to have publicly flirted with the idea of challenging Abbott.

While O’Rourke has been careful not to rule out a possible run for governor, he hasn’t made any official announcement. Meanwhile, Democrats in Texas continue to wait for O’Rourke — or anyone with a pulse — to announce they’ll challenge Abbott under the Blue Team’s banner.
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Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards