Joe Biden has condemned as “wrong and un-American” a Texas state bill set to pass into law which the president said “attacks the sacred right to vote”, particularly among minorities.
The bill, known as SB7, clamps down on measures such as drive-through voting and voting on Sundays. It would also empower partisan poll-watchers. Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, has said he will sign it. Democrats have said they will challenge it in court.
The bill follows moves in other Republican-controlled states which sponsors insist merely seek to guard against voter fraud but which are seen by most analysts to be aimed at restricting voting by sections of the population which tend to vote Democratic.
According to the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice, nearly 400 such bills have been filed this year across the US, in 14 states.
Biden has already blasted such measures, for instance calling laws in Georgia “Jim Crow in the 21st century”, a reference to the system of racist segregation which remained in place for 100 years after the civil war.
As in other states, major corporations have warned Texas that SB7 could harm democracy and the economy. Republicans have shrugged off such objections and in some cases ripped business leaders for speaking out.
The two Republicans who put SB7 together, Texas senator Bryan Hughes and representative Briscoe Cain, called the bill “one of the most comprehensive and sensible election reform bills” in state history.
In a joint statement, they said: “Even as the national media minimises the importance of election integrity, the Texas legislature has not bent to headlines or corporate virtue signalling.”
Biden countered: “Today, Texas legislators put forth 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.”
Republicans have acted to tighten voting laws as the man Biden beat in the presidential election, Donald Trump, continues to dominate GOP politics and to claim his defeat was the result of mass electoral fraud, a lie repeatedly thrown out of court.
On Saturday, Biden said Congress should pass two federal measures, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Both face failure in a Senate split 50-50 and where key Democrats have said they will not support moves to abolish the filibuster, the 60-vote threshold by which the minority can block legislation.
Trump’s lies about the election fuelled the deadly attack on the US Capitol by his supporters on 6 January. On Friday, Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block the formation of a 9/11-style commission to investigate that riot.
Regarding the Texas bill, Biden said he “continue[d] to call on all Americans, of every party in persuasion, to stand up for our democracy and protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections”.
Prominent Texas Democrats were equally quick to register their dismay.
Julián Castro, a former US housing secretary and candidate for the presidential nomination, said: “The final draft of Texas Republicans’ voter suppression bill is as bad as you can get.”
SB7, he said, “restricts registration, absentee, weekend voting and polling hours … ends curb-side voting and discourages rides to polls” and includes a “disability check” for mailed ballots.
“We must defeat SB7,” Castro said.
The former congressman and Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, who also ran for the presidential nomination and like Castro is seen as a potential candidate for governor, thanked Biden for supporting voting rights in the state.
“As you said, we should be making it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to vote,” he wrote. “The only way to do that now is by passing the For the People Act.”
Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, has said he will force a vote on that measure in June.
The Texas Democratic party called SB7 a “Frankenstein’s monster”. In an emailed statement, Rose Clouston, the party’s voter protection director, said: “A bedrock principle of our democracy is that voters pick their leaders. However, right now, Texas Republicans are trying to hand pick their voters.”
Sarah Labowitz, policy and advocacy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, told the New York Times SB7 was “a ruthless piece of legislation”, as “it targets voters of colour and voters with disabilities, in a state that’s already the most difficult place to vote in the country.”