Lawsuits Challenge New Voting Laws in Texas, Georgia, Other States

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Laws make it a crime to masquerade as an election officer, give water to voters

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In a handful of states, there is a new push to introduce criminal penalties for activities that go beyond traditional voter fraud and affect not only individual voters but also volunteer groups and election officials.

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Under a new Texas law, an election official could be jailed for encouraging citizens to vote by mail. In Kansas, volunteers can be charged with a felony if they disguise themselves as an election official. It is now a crime to provide food or water to voters waiting in line in Georgia.

“It wasn’t unheard of in the American past, but it really strikes me as a new twist in election administration laws,” said Alex Keyser, a Harvard University Kennedy School professor who studies the history of voting rights.

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Supporters of these bills said that interfering with the election process is a threat to democracy and some violations require criminal penalties.

“This is a serious matter. We have seen instances where either through deliberate fraud or simple laxity [voters] “There are immense,” said Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Election Project, a non-profit conservative group that intervenes in election lawsuits.

Liberal groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the laws will reduce the participation of voters, volunteer groups and election officials, fearing they could face criminal penalties.

“We won’t have older women, our volunteers will be arrested,” said Selina Stewart, lead attorney for the League of Women’s Voters.

The League of Women Voters has suspended voter registration activity in Kansas, where state lawmakers passed a bill in March that makes it a felony to knowingly provide education or assistance that one might believe. That person is an election officer. In the legal filing, the state said the law helps ensure public confidence in the electoral process.

The league has sued Kansas state officials in state court over the new law, alleging that it would stifle speech in violation of the First Amendment and is overly vague because it is not clear what is intended under this law. What types of activities can be criminal?

Shawnee County District Court Judge Teresa Watson, a Republican appointee, earlier this month denied a request from the League of Women Voters to temporarily block the law from taking effect. She echoed state officials’ claims that prosecutors are required to show that someone “intentionally” inadvertently violating the law by letting an election official guard against a well-meaning volunteer and the plaintiffs’ claims of free speech and obscurity. reduced. There is interest in protecting the integrity of the electoral process of the state, he said.

A law enacted in Texas earlier this month creates a number of new voting-related offenses, including punishing election officials with up to two years in prison for soliciting mail-in ballot applications from voters who did not request them. did. This makes it a felony for anyone seeking compensation for assisting a voter with a mail-in ballot and makes it a misdemeanor for an election official to refuse to accept a polling observer-biased volunteer. who inspect ballot stations and report potential voting irregularities. their respective parties.

Several litigants have sued Texas since the bill was passed, including a voting activist for the 2020 election and a Harris County election administrator. The lawsuit alleges that in some cases these new offenses violate the First Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Voting Rights Act, and criminal due-process protections. The state is yet to respond to these lawsuits.

When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law in early September, he said it would make it easier for people in that state to vote. “However, it also ensures that it is harder for people to cheat at the ballot box in Texas,” he said.

Mr Snead said that during the 2020 election, local officials were encouraging voters to send mail-in ballots even if they did not meet Texas requirements, threatening to ruin their votes. “At the bottom we have to keep in mind that what these officials were doing or trying to do was jeopardizing people’s right to vote,” he said.

New Georgia is suing its home state over a provision criminalizing the handing over of food and water across the project line. “The real danger is that you still have to defend yourself, even if the allegations are rubbish,” said NSE Ufot, chief executive officer of the New Georgia Project.

In the motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr said “the plaintiff’s rhetoric does not match the reality of the law,” which he described as “within the mainstream” of other state election laws.

write to Laura Kusisto and [email protected]

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