Democrats Sue Texas Secretary of State for Suppressing Student Vote

AUSTIN (CN) – The Texas Democratic Party asked a federal judge Wednesday to block a new state law it says Republicans passed with the goal of disenfranchising thousands of college students by placing restrictions on early voting.

The Texas Capitol building in Austin.

Signed into law by Republican Governor Greg Abbott, House Bill 1888 mandates that the hours of all early polling sites must be the same as the hours of a county’s main early voting location.

All the sites must be open on the same weekdays as the main polling place for at least eight hours.

The Texas Democratic Party sued Secretary of State Ruth Hughs in Austin Federal Court, seeking an injunction against the law it says suppresses voting access for young people, who tend to support Democratic candidates.

“HB 1888 effectively bans ‘temporary’ or ‘mobile’ early voting, which afforded county officials the discretion to open early voting locations with flexible hours and days, giving them the chance to bring early voting opportunities to as many voters as possible, including thousands of young Texans living on or near college or university campuses and without reliable access to transportation,” the Democrats say in the 19-page complaint.

They call the law the latest ploy by Texas Republicans to suppress voter turnout, which has ranked low in recent elections compared to other states, coming in last for the 2014 midterm elections.

Plaintiffs include the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which spend millions advocating for people to vote for Democrats in federal elections.

Lead counsel is John Hardin with Perkins Coie in Dallas.

“The state’s consistently low turnout is attributable in part to its restrictive voting laws, which include an early registration deadline, a lack of online voter registration, and a restrictive photo identification law,” the complaint states.

Democrats claimed in a federal lawsuit filed in 2013 that a voter ID law passed by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011 was designed to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning black and Hispanic voters.

The voter ID litigants said the Legislature’s discriminatory intent was evident in the fact that it excluded student IDs from the list of acceptable IDs, but permitted concealed handgun permits, which white voters possess in greater numbers than minorities.

In the new lawsuit, Democrats say turnout in Texas increased dramatically for the 2018 midterm elections — 18% above the 2014 midterms — thanks largely to the increased availability and use of early voting sites.

“Early voting played a significant role in this increase, accounting for over 70% of the total turnout in Texas. In fact, the number of Texans who voted early in 2018 alone surpassed total turnout overall in the 2014 election,” the complaint states.

Early voting by young people in the 2018 midterms more than quintupled compared to 2014, according to the complaint.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s campaign to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz in the November 2018 elections, in which O’Rourke visited all the state’s 254 counties and set campaign fundraising records, was also a factor in the increased 2018 turnout.

Counties don’t have the money to keep all early voting sites open Monday through Friday for eight hours, the Texas Democratic Party says, so several counties are offering fewer sites for the November 2019 elections than they did for previous elections.

HB 1888 has already put a damper on early voting for Tarrant County, one of the state’s most populous, whose seat is Forth Worth, according to the complaint.

“In Tarrant County, for example, there will likely be no early voting locations on the campuses of the University of Texas at Arlington or at Texas Christian University in 2020, where temporary early voting locations previously existed,” the lawsuit states.

Besides college students, the Democrats say, HB 1888 will make it harder for elderly people who live in nursing homes and people who live in rural areas to vote.

The Texas Democratic Party seeks a declaration that HB 1888 violates the First, 14th and 26th Amendments and an order permanently enjoining it.

Democrats say the 26th Amendment “explicitly protects young voters against such restrictions on the franchise” and guarantees them the same access to voting as members of other demographic groups.

Hughs’ office did not immediately respond Thursday morning to a request for comment.

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