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Trial begins over Texas voter laws that sparked 38-day walkout by Democrats in 2021

by The Associated Press and Gazette Staff | September 11, 2023 at 11:00 p.m.
Pam Gaskin shows her mail-in primary election ballot at her home Jan. 31, 2022, in Missouri City, Texas. A trial began Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, over a sweeping Texas voting law that set off a 38-day walkout by Democrats in 2021 and resulted in thousands of rejected mail ballots under the stricter measures, which Republicans had rushed to pass following President Donald Trump's defeat and his false claims of a stolen election. (Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle via AP, File)

SAN ANTONIO -- A trial began Monday over a sweeping Texas voting law that sparked a 38-day walkout by Democrats in 2021, part of Republican efforts across the U.S. to pass new voting restrictions following President Donald Trump's false claims of a stolen election.

The lawsuit was brought by a coalition of voting rights groups after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the changes into law. It is unclear when U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez might rule in the trial, which could last weeks.

Potentially at stake are voting rules Texas will use for the 2024 elections, although any decision is likely to be appealed.

U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett, who represents Texas' District 30, was among the state legislators who participated in the walkout. At the time, she represented District 100 in the state House.

Crockett, a former Bowie County public defender, said the case is inspiring.

"This fight -- the fight for equal and equitable access to the ballot box in Texas -- is exactly what called me to pursue legislative work, and I am so proud to see this incredibly important fight continue its way to the courts," the congresswoman said Monday afternoon to the Texarkana Gazette.

Crockett said a "reasonable interpretation" of the Voting Rights Act affirms the merits of the case, which she argues can become muddled by partisanship that threatens fundamental rights.

"Still, I am hopeful that the courts will make the right decision in this case, and I will continue my work on the federal level to protect and preserve voting rights for all," she said.

Crockett cited the Democracy Restoration Act -- a piece of legislation she has introduced with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., "that would reinstate voting rights for returning citizens in federal elections."

The Texas challenge, from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and others, has not stopped the measures from taking effect, including a ban on 24-hour polling places and drive-thru voting. Many changes targeted Harris County, which includes Houston and is where a slate of Republican candidates are challenging their defeats last year.

During the hurried rollout of the law last year, more than 23,000 mail ballots in Texas were rejected during the March 2022 primary elections as voters struggled to navigate the new rules. By November's general election, the rejection rate fell significantly, but was still higher than what experts consider normal.

In August, Rodriguez separately struck down a requirement that mail voters provide the same identification number they used when they registered to vote.

Print Headline: Trial begins over Texas voter laws that sparked 38-day walkout by Democrats in 2021


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