Justice Division Sues Texas Over Draconian Voting Regulation

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Yesterday the Justice Division sued Texas over its just lately enacted voting regulation, often called SB1. The controversial statute promotes “election safety” in a number of alternative ways, all of which add as much as making it tougher to solid a poll within the Lone Star State.

The invoice bans 24-hour voting, outlaws curbside voting, and makes it a felony to mail out an unsolicited mail-in poll. It additionally permits ballot watchers to run riot in polling stations and imposes legal penalties on anybody who “obstructs” their view. However the DOJ is suing over two completely different provisions which make it tougher for aged, disabled, and non-native English talking voters to solid their ballots in alleged violation of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Previous to the enactment of SB1, these wishing to help a voter in one of many above classes needed to swear an oath to “confine my help to answering the voter’s questions, to stating propositions on the poll, and to naming candidates and, if listed, their political events; I’ll put together the voter’s poll because the voter directs.”

The brand new oath accommodates language promising to “confine my help to studying the poll to the voter, directing the voter to learn the poll, marking the voter’s poll, or directing the voter to mark the poll,” and acknowledging that help supplied to somebody “ineligible” to obtain it might invalidate the poll.

The DOJ argues that barring the assistant from answering questions violates Part 208 of the Voting Rights Act which states “[a]ny voter who requires help to vote by purpose of blindness, incapacity, or lack of ability to learn or write could also be given help by an individual of the voter’s selection, aside from the voter’s employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter’s union.”

Furthermore, if the validity of the poll is jeopardized by serving to the voter, the regulation will doubtless chill entry to wanted help. How good does a voter’s English need to be to render the help unlawful? How disabled does she need to be to qualify for assist?

The second contested provision entails a brand new requirement that mail-in ballots have the final 4 digits of the voter’s drivers’ license or social safety quantity written on the envelope. Though the regulation permits registrars to just accept ballots with different discrepancies, corresponding to a unique deal with or final title, they “shall” reject ballots with out the “right” quantity written on the envelope.

This presents each a entice for the unwary — what if Meemaw forgets that she used her DL quantity on the appliance and writes her SSN on the poll itself — and an administrative hurdle for many who have paperwork which don’t match the numbers within the Texas Election Administration Administration database, whether or not as a result of they’re too previous, too new, or on account of administrative error.

The DOJ argues that this violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which makes it unlawful to “deny the appropriate of any particular person to vote in any election due to an error or omission on any document or paper regarding any software, registration, or different act requisite to voting, if such error or omission will not be materials in figuring out whether or not such particular person is certified underneath State regulation to vote in such election.”

“Driver’s license numbers, election identification certificates numbers, private identification certificates numbers, and partial social safety numbers should not materials to figuring out whether or not a voter meets State regulation {qualifications} to vote or to solid a mail poll,” the federal government argues, demanding that the court docket enjoin enforcement of each provisions.

In a DOJ press launch, Kristen Clarke, head of the Civil Rights Division, promised to guard entry to the poll.

“Legal guidelines that impair eligible residents’ entry to the poll field don’t have any place in our democracy,” she stated. “Texas Senate Invoice 1’s restrictions on voter help on the polls and on which absentee ballots solid by eligible voters might be accepted by election officers are illegal and indefensible.”

As for Texas Governor Greg Abbott, he was in his common pugilistic mode.

“Convey it. The Texas election integrity regulation is authorized,” he tweeted. “It INCREASES hours to vote. It does prohibit unlawful mail poll voting. Solely those that qualify can vote by mail. It additionally makes poll harvesting a felony. In Texas it’s simpler to vote however tougher to cheat.”

Astute observers will observe that none of that addresses the problems raised on this case. (And that including an hour or two of voting in a county with 55,000 individuals doesn’t offset the tip of 24-hour voting in Austin.) Nor does it point out that there have been a mere handful of prosecutions for vote fraud out of thousands and thousands of ballots solid, so the statute is “fixing” an issue which doesn’t exist.

Until the issue is simply too many individuals with quick access to the poll field — by which case, it’s working precisely as supposed.

US v. Texas [Docket via Court Listener]

Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore the place she writes about regulation and politics.

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