Biden slams Texas proposed voting curbs as ‘assault on democracy’

Texas legislators are expected to vote on bill restricting voting access, the latest of several similar measures in US.

The proposed Texas legislation would eliminate drive-through voting, empower partisan poll watchers and limit voting on Sundays, when many Black churchgoers head to the polls [File: LM Otero/AP Photo]

United States President Joe Biden has denounced a proposed bill in the state of Texas that would restrict voting rights, saying the measure “is part of an assault on democracy” and would disproportionately harm people of colour.

In a statement on Saturday afternoon, Biden said Texas legislators put forward a bill “that joins Georgia and Florida in advancing a state law that attacks the sacred right to vote”.

“It’s part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year – and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans. It’s wrong and un-American. In the 21st century, we should be making it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to vote,” he said.

Texas’ sweeping bill – known as Senate Bill 7 – would eliminate drive-through voting, empower partisan poll watchers and limit voting on Sundays, when many Black churchgoers head to the polls, among other restrictions.

The changes would need to be approved before midnight on Sunday, when the state’s Republican-controlled legislature wraps up its session.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott has said he will sign the measure, which Democrats have said they would challenge in court.

The proposal is one of several pieces of legislation put forward by Republicans across the US in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential elections that would restrict voting access – and which critics have said aim to make it tougher for Black and other people of colour to cast their ballots.

Florida, Georgia, and Arizona have also approved new voting restrictions in recent months.

Georgia’s law, passed in March, imposes stricter identification requirements, limits drop boxes, gives lawmakers the power to take over local elections and shortens the early voting period for all runoff elections. It also makes it a misdemeanour for people to offer food and water to voters waiting in line.

That measure drew swift rebuke from civil rights advocates and business leaders, as well as from Biden, who described it as “Jim Crow of the 21st Century” – referring to the segregation laws once used to suppress the vote of African Americans.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which tracks voting legislation around the country, said at least 14 states across the country had enacted 22 laws restricting voting access between January 1 and May 14 of this year, while dozens more were working their way through state legislatures.

The surge in attempts to curb voting access is linked to former President Donald Trump’s repeated false claims that the November election was stolen from him and attempts to prevent historic voter turnout seen in 2020 from repeating itself, the Brennan Center said on its website.

“Americans’ access to the vote is in unprecedented peril,” it said.

Back in Texas, major corporations, including American Airlines and Dell, have warned that the proposed bill could harm democracy and the economic climate.

But Republicans shrugged off their objections, and in some cases, criticised business leaders for speaking out.

The top Republican negotiators, state Senator Bryan Hughes and state Representative Briscoe Cain, called the bill “one of the most comprehensive and sensible election reform bills” in Texas’ history.

“Even as the national media minimizes the importance of election integrity, the Texas Legislature has not bent to headlines or corporate virtue signaling,” they said in a joint statement.

Texas already has some of the country’s tightest voting restrictions and is regularly cited by nonpartisan groups as a state where it is especially hard to vote. It was one of the few states that did not make it easier to vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies