Even as Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1 into law in Tyler on Tuesday, Democrats and special interest groups were filing lawsuits to stop its implementation. They’ll challenge it on constitutional grounds, claiming it’s a blatant attempt to suppress minority votes.
Yet that’s not the sole strategy at play here. Just as they used publicity stunts such as jetting off to D.C. to break the Texas House’s quorum, and over-the-top rhetoric such as calling any reforms to Texas election laws “the new Jim Crow,” opponents of free and fair elections in Texas will first attempt to try this case in the court of public opinion.
Both strategies will fail. The new law will certainly pass constitutional muster, and my organization, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and others will meet litigants on the courthouse steps, ready to defend election integrity in Texas. And opponents of the law will find that Texans overwhelmingly support its provisions—stronger voter ID for mail-in ballots and uniform voting rules throughout the state.
Let’s take these each in turn. First, the legal challenges and the constitutional question: The simple fact is that according to the U.S. Constitution, the “times, places and manner” of elections is to be determined by the state legislatures—not county officials and not mayors (sorry, Harris County and Sylvester Turner).
The biggest change SB 1 makes is that it adds voter ID requirements to mail-in ballots. The U.S. Supreme Court has clearly ruled that voter ID rules are constitutional. Voter ID is “amply justified by the valid interest in protecting ‘the integrity and reliability of the electoral process,’” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 2008. Currently, 36 states have some form of voter ID requirement.
With more and more people voting by mail, it makes sense to add voter ID to mail-in ballots. That’s just what Florida and Georgia have done; the new Texas law mirrors the one in Georgia, which requires voters to list their state-issued ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on the ballot when they send it in. Other states are also considering these rules.
As in Georgia, the process for verifying absentee ballots in Texas before SB 1 was signature matching—a subjective process that too often disqualified valid votes. SB 1 limits that process, while at the same time adding a provision to allow voters to correct their mail-in ballots if they’re at risk of being thrown out due to technical errors.
Other changes to existing voting laws are relatively minor. SB 1 expands voting hours; it doesn’t ban 24-hour voting and drive-through voting—because those were never legal in the first place. It doesn’t “empower” partisan poll watchers; poll watchers are already a part of the process and serve as an important safeguard. SB 1 simply makes it illegal to obstruct their view. The eyes of the public must be able to see the process. And the new law also strengthens rules for helping the elderly and disabled to vote.
Democrats and other opponents of SB 1 will find that nothing in the law is unconstitutional. They’ll also find that Texans are on the side of election integrity.
According to our polls, 82% of Texas voters support voter ID, including 75% of Black voters, 81% of Hispanic voters, and 72% of Democrats. And 67% of Texans—better than two out of three—support adding voter ID protections to mail-in ballots.
The court challenges are inevitable, and so is the hyperbole. The truth is that SB 1 will make elections more secure—something all Texans can agree upon. Election integrity will prevail in the courts, and also in the court of public opinion.