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Texas GOP finds new target for voter suppression: People with disabilities

The bill filed on Thursday is the 11th introduced this year that would make it harder to vote in Texas.

By Emily Singer - March 12, 2021
Greg Abbott

A group of GOP state senators in Texas on Thursday introduced yet another bill aimed at making it harder to vote. If signed into law, it would cut back on the amount of time allowed for casting a ballot and require disabled voters to provide explicit proof of their disability in order to cast an absentee ballot.

According to the text of the bill, disabled voters would need to provide “written documentation from the Social Security Administration or the United States Department of Veterans Affairs evidencing that the applicant has been determined to have a disability,” or a note from a doctor affirming that they are physically unable to vote in person.

The bill would also cut the hours polls are open in the early-voting period to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Under current law, counties can determine their own polling times, with Democratic strongholds like Harris County, which includes the city of Austin, keeping polls open until 10 p.m. for early voting.

It would also limit local election officials from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters and would block third-party groups from handing them out.

Move Texas, a nonprofit that works to increase youth voter participation in the state, called the bill “the worst voting rights legislation to get filed this entire session.”

“Senate Bill 7 is a fundamentally undemocratic attack on the right to vote here in Texas,” the group said in a statement. “It is a shameless attempt to suppress the voices of young Texans and the rising electorate that we saw activated in 2020 — one of the most secure elections in our state’s history.”

Texas was one of the only states in the country that did not expand access to absentee ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It kept its rule that voters must have an excuse to cast an absentee ballot, and fear of contracting the the coronavirus did not count.

Having a disability did qualify voters to cast absentee ballots. Voters had to check a box on the application to say they were disabled in order to receive a mail-in ballot.

If this new bill becomes law, however, it would create an extra hurdle for disabled voters.

It’s not the first time Texas Republicans have targeted the disabled community’s ability to vote.

In October 2020, voting rights groups sued Texas’ Republican Gov. Greg Abbott over his decision to limit each county in the state to just one drop box for absentee ballots.

In the lawsuit, the groups claimed, “Texas’s limit on absentee ballot drop-boxes ensures that many disabled and elderly voters — who cannot safely vote in person — will have to travel long distances and suffer crowded drop-off locations in order to drop off their absentee ballots.”

The conservative-controlled Texas Supreme Court sided with Abbott.

The bill filed on Thursday is the 11th introduced this year that would make it harder to vote in Texas, according to the tally maintained on a voting bill tracker posted by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Hundreds of voter suppression bills have been introduced in state legislatures by Republicans since the beginning of the year.

Georgia is working to pass a law that would once again require an excuse — such as disability — to vote by mail. However, the state is not going as far as Texas with regard to requiring documented proof of a disability.

Meanwhile, Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has already signed into law a bill that shortens the early-voting period, and closes polls one hour earlier.

Republican legislators are justifying their voter suppression bills with lies of voter fraud spread by Donald Trump and parroted by his GOP allies. They say the bills are necessary to secure future elections, even though the 2020 election was the “most secure in American history,” according to a report by Trump’s own administration.

An Arizona Republican lawmaker on Thursday said the quiet part out loud about the intention behind spate of new election bills, noting that Republicans do not believe everyone should be able to vote.

“There’s a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans,” Rep. John Kavanagh told CNN. “Democrats value as many people as possible voting, and they’re willing to risk fraud. Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote — but everybody shouldn’t be voting.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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