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Justice Department sues Texas over restrictive voting law

The lawsuit alleges the GOP-led law violates federal protections for civil rights and voting access.

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is suing Texas over key components of the state's Republican-led voting law that federal officials say are in violation of U.S. protections for civil rights and voting access.

The lawsuit, filed on Thursday, alleges that Senate Bill 1, known as SB 1, violates part of the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act by imposing restrictions at polling locations and through absentee ballots.

"In this action, the United States challenges provisions of SB 1 that deny eligible voters meaningful assistant in the voting booth and require rejection of mail ballot materials for immaterial errors or omissions," the Justice Department said in the lawsuit.

“Our democracy depends on the right of eligible voters to cast a ballot and to have that ballot counted,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement accompanying the lawsuit.

The Texas law bans overnight and drive-thru early voting, both of which were popular in Houston's Harris County last year during heightened concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. While lawmakers had previously considered a bill that would have limited Sunday morning early voting, the final version of the legislation increased the number of hours on Sunday that counties must offer, from five to six hours.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has argued that the new rules will make it easier to vote by expanding the required early voting hours in the state. But critics have pointed to the reduction in early voting hours in some of the state's most populous areas.

Abbott's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday on the lawsuit.

The state law was passed over the objections of Democratic lawmakers, many of whom briefly fled the state earlier this year in an unsuccessful attempt to block its passage.

This is the second major lawsuit focused on voting access filed by the Justice Department since President Joe Biden took office. In June, the Justice Department sued Georgia, arguing that limits on absentee ballots in a new state law will disproportionately affect Black voters.