‘Undermining of democracy’: UN expert cites Texas voting law as failure to protect minority rights

Texas Politics

UNITED NATIONS (KXAN) — A human rights expert working for the United Nations cited the new voting law and political maps approved in Texas as examples of the country’s broader failures to protect the rights of minorities.

Fernand de Varennes, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on minority issues, said he visited Texas as one of the stops during his 15-day trip to several states and American territories that concluded Monday. He said he did so to highlight “progress, opportunities and challenges encountered by minorities,” which preliminarily found that two of the biggest threats to their human rights include voting and equal political participation.

During a news conference Monday, he specifically called out the provisions of Senate Bill 1, the new voting changes approved by Texas Republicans this year, because he claims they will hamper the right to vote for the state’s growing communities of color.

“I conclude that there is in fact what could be described as an undermining of democracy, with a phenomenal number of legislative measures in different parts of the country, which have the effect — whether it’s intentional or not — but it certainly has the effect of making the exercise of the right to vote more difficult for certain minorities,” de Varennes said.

He called out measures in the law like banning 24-hour voting, restricting drive-through voting and limiting voting by mail. He also questioned whether the legislation would prevent poll workers from assisting voters who are not fluent in English — arguments that many of the law’s opponents have articulated.

“The less opportunities, the less measures to facilitate as much as possible voting, those that are most likely disproportionately to have their right to vote reduced or make more difficult are demonstrably minorities,” de Varennes said.

Texas Republican lawmakers who supported the bill, including Gov. Greg Abbott, long contended that SB 1 would make the election process much more secure in the state. However, Democrats and voting rights activists argued the changes would make it harder for people to cast a ballot. Democratic lawmakers even fled the state and went to Washington, D.C. for several weeks to prevent the state legislature from having enough people present to conduct business. The legislation ultimately passed when some of them returned to the state.

The Department of Justice announced it’s suing Texas over SB 1, claiming it violates a number of federal civil and voting rights laws.

“The challenged provisions will disenfranchise eligible Texas citizens who seek to exercise their right to vote, including voters with limited English proficiency, voters with disabilities, elderly voters, members of the military deployed away from home, and American citizens residing outside of the country,” the DOJ’s complaint reads.

‘Tyranny of the majority’

Additionally, de Varennes said how Texas redrew its political boundaries will harm minorities by diluting their political power. He pointed out the state gained two Congressional seats because of its explosive growth during the last decade, with minorities driving 95% of it. However, he said “gerrymandering” kept white voters in the majority of the new political maps.

“It is becoming unfortunately apparent that it is almost a tyranny of the majority, where minorities’ right to vote are being denied in many areas, many parts of the country and that this cannot be a positive development,” de Varennes said. “This cannot be consistent with the fundamental values of democracy and certainly does not seem to be consistent with the United States’ human rights obligations.”

Gov. Abbott signed the state’s new political maps into law in October. However, they’re now facing a number of legal challenges.

de Varennes said he will now work on a longer, more in-depth report to present to the country’s leaders in the hopes of identifying ways to improve human rights for Americans.

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