Thursday, August 2, 2012

U.S. District Court Suspends Five Texas Restrictions On Deputy Voter Registrars

In 2011, the 82nd Texas Legislature enacted and the Governor signed three bills that substantially affected the qualifications to become a volunteer deputy registrar in Texas. Today, U.S. Southern District Court Judge Gregg Costa suspended five provisions of Texas law that place restrictions on groups and individuals who work to register new voters. Judge Costa issued his 94-page order (3:12-cv-00044 Document 65) in the Voting for America v. Hope Andrade case.

The suit was filed in February against Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade’s office by Voting for America Inc., the voter registration affiliate of Project Vote, a national nonprofit voter education and advocacy organization. The deputy registrar provisions Judge Costa suspended with a temporary injunction are:

  1. No one can work in voter registration drives who doesn’t live in Texas;
  2. No one can work outside any one particular county;
  3. Payment to registration drive workers must be an hourly wage and compensation cannot be based on the worker’s productivity;
  4. No completed voter registration forms can be photocopied by the registration drive workers or the registration drive organization; and
  5. All completed voter registrations must be delivered to county elections officials in person by the deputy registrar.
It may take a while for the Office of the Secretary of State to update the Texas Volunteer Deputy Registrar Guide on it's website.

Updated Aug. 2, 2012 @ 8:05pm
Contact: Sarah Massey, 202 210-6614,
Victory for Voter Registration in Texas

(GALVESTON, Texas) – In a major victory for voting rights, today U.S. District Court Judge Gregg Costa ruled in favor of plaintiff Project Vote and its affiliate in Voting for America v Andrade and ordered the state of Texas to stop enforcing certain laws that restrict voter registration drives.

“This case is about making sure that voter registration drives, which are the foundation of our democracy, can operate without undue burdens,” says Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote. “At this time when millions of eligible Texans are still not registered to vote, our focus should be to help them become voters. Instead, the Texas election code sets up a system that punishes voter registration drives for helping community members get access to voting.”

Plaintiffs argue that certain provisions of Texas election code violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and/or the National Voter Registration Act. Today the court agreed that the organizations are likely to succeed on the majority of their claims.

The court’s ruling grants a preliminary injunction enjoining the following laws:

  1. a prohibition on voter registration drives submitting to officials by mail applications they collect;
  2. a prohibition on drives copying applications before submitting them to officials (as long as confidential information is not copied);
  3. a ban on non-Texans becoming volunteer deputy registrars;
  4. a prohibition that prevents any person from accepting or handling applications from residents of counties other than the county in which the person was appointed as a volunteer deputy registrar, a provision that forced organizations engaged in large-scale registration efforts to have their canvassers and managerial staff appointed as volunteer deputy registrars in multiple counties; and
  5. a burdensome compensation law that prohibited organizations from firing employees based on their performance in collecting applications.

In the opinion, Costa emphasized the importance of voter registration drives, especially to communities of color: “Voter registration drives have played a vital role in increasing participation in the political process. This is especially true in minority communities with historically lower rates of voter registration. Census figures indicate that a significant percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics voting in the last presidential election registered through voter registration drives and other third-party voter registration activities.”

Criticizing the law’s chilling effect on voter registration, Costa writes, “The result is that Texas now imposes more burdensome regulations on those engaging in third-party voter registration than the vast majority of, if not all, other states.”

“Today's ruling means that community groups and organizations like Voting for America and Project Vote will be able to run community voter registration drives in Texas. These drives are important to reaching the millions of Texans, including half a million African-American and three-quarters of a million Latinos who are eligible but still not registered to vote,” says Chad Dunn, counsel for the plaintiffs.

“This is a terrific victory and I am hopeful it sets a national precedent,” says Ryan M. Malone, lawyer for the plaintiffs.

“Voter registration policies in Texas, over at least the past decade, created an environment hostile to voter registration,” says Slater. “Today’s ruling restores the rights of Texas citizens to participate in our democracy.”

The court declined to enjoin three out of the eight challenged provisions, but plaintiffs will have the opportunity to develop their case on these issues as the litigation moves forward.


DBN: U.S. Southern District Court Judge Gregg Costa' 94 page order:

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