The US state of Texas has moved closer to passing a contentious bill on voting restrictions that United States President Joe Biden earlier denounced as “part of an assault on democracy” that would disproportionately harm Black people and other people of colour.
The legislation, which Texas’s Republican Governor Greg Abbott has said he plans to sign into law if passed, 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 Texas Senate passed the bill in an 18-13 vote shortly after 6am local time (11:00 GMT) on Sunday after an overnight debate, The New York Times reported, and the House is expected to take up the measure later in the day. The legislative session is set to expire at midnight.
Civil rights groups have slammed the legislation – formally known as Senate Bill 7, or SB7 – as an attack on voting rights.
“The bill will make it much harder and scarier to vote – in a state that’s already the most difficult place to vote in the country,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas tweeted on Saturday.
The bill is one of several pieces of legislation being pushed by Republican lawmakers across the US to restrict voting in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential elections, which former President Donald Trump falsely said was marred by widespread voter fraud.
In a statement on Saturday afternoon, Biden said the bill is “wrong and un-American”.
“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,” the US president said.
The president of the Texas branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Gary Bledsoe, pointed out on Sunday that “this law to return us to the time of Jim Crow is occurring on the anniversary of the Black Wall Street Massacre”.
A race massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, beginning on May 31, 1921, left the city’s thriving Black community in ruins as a white mob burned down buildings and killed about 300 people.
“Our voices need to be heard today and always,” Bledsoe said in a statement.
The Texas bill would bar Texans from using 24-hour polling sites or casting ballots at drive-through polling places located in car parks and garages. It also would ban mobile units or temporary structures from being used as polling places.
The legislation also places new requirements on Texans who want to vote through the mail and would bar election officials from sending unsolicited mail-in ballot applications to voters. It also would make the removal of disruptive poll watchers more difficult.
Florida, Georgia, and Arizona also approved new voting restrictions in recent months.
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.