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Voting for America Sues Texas on Behalf of Voters and the U.S. Constitution Print E-mail

February 13, 2012

Galveston, TX – Citing clear evidence that Texas’s election code related to voter registration violates the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and the U.S. Constitution in several ways, Voting for America, an affiliate of Project Vote, filed suit today against the state of Texas. 

The suit—which names Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade and Galveston County Assessor and Collector of Taxes and Voter Registrar Cheryl Johnson as defendants—states that Texas election code impedes the efforts of community-based voter registration drives to assist community members to register to vote, and blocks access to the voter rolls to ensure that those citizens have been added to the rolls. The suit seeks to obtain declaratory and injunctive relief prohibiting the defendants from enforcing provisions of the Texas Election Code that violate the NVRA and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 

“Texas rules have created a voter registration system characterized by criminal penalties and vague and unduly burdensome requirements that subvert major tenets of the NVRA and violate the Constitution,” says Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote and Voting for America. “Current Texas law would make it nearly impossible for voter registration organizations to conduct their work in the state.” 

According to the lawsuit, the Texas Election Code imposes a variety of burdensome restrictions related to public access to records, qualifications and compensation for employees of voter registration drives, and the review and delivery of voter registration forms. Specifically, the suit alleges that:

  • Texas improperly restricts public access to inspect and copy voter registration records in violation of the NVRA, thus severely hindering the ability of individuals and organizations to verify the accuracy of the voter rolls and the fairness of the voter application process.
  • Texas improperly regulates the distribution of voter registration applications, as it requires anyone seeking to do so to first be appointed as a “voluntary deputy registrar (VDR)” by a county registrar, and places unfair and onerous restrictions and requirements on such VDRs. For example, VDRs must be registered to vote in the state of Texas, and may only accept registration applications from applicants who reside within the same county in which the VDR was appointed.
  • Texas prohibits VDRs from mailing in completed applications. Rather, VDRs must personally deliver completed applications within five days of collection, a requirement that severely hinders the ability of large-scale voter registration drives to manage their programs and implement effective quality control measures.
  • Texas places undue restrictions on how community organizations manage their employees, making it virtually impossible to fire under-producing employees and threatening organizations with such excessive threats of fines and criminal prosecution that running such a drive would be prohibitively risky in the state.

The suit also takes issue with the Galveston County Registrar for enforcing a new Texas law requiring photo ID for voters. This action is in direct violation of the Voting Rights Act, which requires all voting laws in several states with a history of racially discriminatory election practices—including Texas—to be precleared by the Department of Justice (DOJ). To date, the DOJ has not cleared the Texas voter ID law.

“The Galveston County Registrar impedes on citizens’ rights when requiring photo ID in order to cast a vote and participate in democracy,” says Chad Dunn, local counsel.

The plaintiffs are represented by Ropes & Gray LLP in Washington, DC, Chad Dunn at Brazil and Dunn LLP in Houston, TX, and Dicky Grigg at Spivey & Grigg LLP in Austin, TX.

The complaint concludes, “Discriminatory election practices, once the keystone of Southern politics at the polls 50 years ago, are now being implemented in a new guise at the voter registration stage.”

“Voter registration policies in Texas, over at least the past decade, have created an environment that is hostile to voter registration,” says Slater. “This lawsuit seeks to redress some of these policies, which violate state and federal law and endanger the rights of Texas citizens to participate in our democracy.”

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Voting for America is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to building an American electorate that truly represents the diversity of the American people.

For more information and interviews, please contact Sarah Massey at 202 210-6614.

 

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