Court Strikes Down Texas Law Restricting Voter Assistance

Posted on

July 18, 2022

Edie Surtees, Communications Director

Federal Court Strikes Down Texas’ Election Law Provisions Restricting Assistance for Voters with Disabilities and Limited English-Speaking Voters

AUSTINLast month, a federal court struck down provisions of the Texas Elections Code modified in 2021 as part of Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) that illegally restrict necessary assistance to voters with disabilities and limited English-speaking voters. Last week, Texas officials declined to appeal this ruling. These provisions of SB 1 are is now permanently enjoined.

The order from Judge Robert Pitman prohibits Texas from limiting voting assistance to only reading and marking the ballot and from requiring individuals assisting voters to sign an oath stating they confined their assistance to reading the ballot to the voter, directing the voter to read the ballot, marking the voter’s ballot, or directing the voter to mark the ballot. The court further ordered Texas to revise its training and instructional materials for state and county officials, and to distribute notice to all county elections departments clarifying the SB 1 provisions that they should not enforce. The provisions at issue directly violated a 2018 injunction holding that such limitations on assistance violated the Voting Rights Act.

In September 2021, Disability Rights Texas, The ACLU of Texas, the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and the law firm of Jenner & Block LLP filed a separate federal lawsuit on behalf of The League of Women Voters of Texas, the Workers Defense Action Fund, REV-UP Texas, and OCA of Greater Houston challenging provisions of SB 1, including provisions that have made and will continue to make it harder for some Texas residents to vote, including people with disabilities. The lawsuit alleges that several provisions of SB 1, including the provision recently struck down, violate the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Among other violations, Plaintiffs claim that the law imposes barriers that discriminate against voters with disabilities and deny people with disabilities full and equal opportunities to participate in the state’s election process. This complaint remains pending before Judge Xavier Rodriguez.

“Judge Pitman’s order is a victory for Texas voters, especially voters with disabilities in Texas,” said Lia Sifuentes Davis, senior litigation attorney at Disability Rights Texas. “Voters with disabilities in Texas are now no longer limited by a restrictive law in what assistance they can receive to ensure they are able to vote. At the same time, other provisions of SB 1 continue to limit voters with disabilities, especially those seeking to vote by mail. Disability Rights Texas and our partners will continue to fight to ensure people with disabilities receive equal access to the polls.”

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Disability Rights Texas is the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency (P&A) for people with disabilities in Texas established in 1977. Its mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society. Visit www.DRTx.org for more information.