AUSTIN (KXAN) — The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled Thursday that portions of Texas Senate Bill 1, which was adopted in September 2021, violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to a news release from the United States Department of Justice.
The court found that parts of S.B. 1 require officials to reject mail-in ballot applications and mail-in ballots based on errors or omissions that are not material in determining whether voters are qualified under Texas law to vote or cast a mail ballot, the release said.
“The District Court’s decision affirms what the Justice Department has argued for nearly two years: these provisions of Texas Senate Bill 1 unlawfully restrict the ability of eligible Texas voters to vote by mail and to have that vote counted,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Justice Department will continue to defend against unlawful efforts that undermine the right to vote and restrict participation in our democracy.”
The court issued a preliminary ruling Thursday in favor of the United States’ motion for summary judgment, which asserts that two provisions of S.B. 1 violate Section 101 of the Civil Rights Act by requiring rejection of mail ballots and mail ballot request forms because of paperwork errors that are not material to establishing a voter’s eligibility to cast a ballot, the release said.
The first provision requires that early voting clerks “shall reject” mail ballot applications that do not include a Texas driver’s license or ID number that identifies “the same voter identified on the applicant’s application for voter registration.”
The second provision provides that a mail ballot “may be accepted only if” the ID numbers on the carrier envelope or signature sheet identifies “the same voter identified on the applicant’s application for voter registration.”
“In requiring rejection of mail ballots and mail ballot applications from eligible voters based on minor paperwork errors or omissions, Texas Senate Bill 1 violates the Civil Rights Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This ruling sends a clear message that states may not impose unlawful and unnecessary requirements that disenfranchise eligible voters seeking to participate in our democracy. The Justice Department will continue to use every available tool to protect all Americans’ right to vote and to ensure that their voices are heard.”
The United States presented evidence to the court that S.B. 1 resulted in Texas election officials rejecting tens of thousands of mail ballot applications and mail ballots cast in elections since the bill was enacted in 2021, according to the justice department. The Department asserts that these rejections violate federal law, denying Texas voters the statutory right to vote protected by Section 101, the release said.
The court noted that the ruling will be followed in the coming weeks by a final written opinion and order, the release said. A group of private plaintiffs will go to trial on the remaining claims in the case, which have not been resolved yet. The trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 11, the release said.