Major victory in lawsuit against Texas anti-voter law 

Posted on

August 22, 2023

Texas Civil Rights Project – media@texascivilrightsproject.org
Jenner & Block – crios@jenner.com
AALDEF – ssia@aaldef.org
ACLU of Texas — media@aclutx.org
Disability Rights Texas – esurtees@drtx.org

Judge rules in favor of civil rights groups, stating mail-in ballot ID matching provisions of Senate Bill 1 violate federal law

AUSTIN—A federal court ruled late last week in favor of civil rights groups who filed a lawsuit against anti-voter legislation, Senate Bill 1. The lawsuit, filed in 2021 by the Texas Civil Rights Project, American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Disability Rights Texas, and the law firm Jenner & Block LLP, argued that the law’s mail-in ballot identification matching provisions violate federal law.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Texas, Register, Educate, Vote, & Use your Power – Texas (REV UP Texas), and OCA Greater Houston.

Senate Bill 1 requires mail voters to provide an ID number that matches the number contained in their voter file in Texas’s voter registration database, which is riddled with incorrect and missing information. During the 2022 elections, this resulted in the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of Texans who voted by mail. After reviewing extensive briefing and evidence on the issue, the district court ruled that the matching requirement violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it throws out votes that have irrelevant paperwork errors.

Read more in the summary judgement ruling filed on August 17, 2023.

The remainder of the case will go to trial on Sept. 11, 2023, on the group’s other challenges to Senate Bill 1, which prohibit certain forms of mail ballot assistance and protected speech.

“This win illustrates what we’ve long known: Senate Bill 1 violates federal law,” said Zach Dolling (he/him), senior staff attorney, Voting Rights Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “By illegally imposing restrictive mail voter ID matching laws, Senate Bill 1 directly targeted older voters, voters with disabilities, and college students. This victory will help reduce the rejection rate of mail-in ballots, strengthen vote by mail, and ensure Texans are able to make their voices heard at the ballot box.”

“Yet another voter suppression provision of Senate Bill 1 fails under federal law,” said Susana Lorenzo-Giguere, associate director of AALDEF’s Democracy Program. “We celebrate this win for Texas’s mail-in ballot voters, a voting method preferred by Asian Americans, many of whom are elders and limited English proficient with languages that do not use numericals. The right to vote is fundamental and should not be taken away due to immaterial clerical errors.”

“We are very pleased with the district court’s decision,” said Alex Trepp, partner at Jenner & Block. “We are also proud to work with incredible co-counsel to represent these plaintiffs in standing up against attempts at voter suppression.”

“We are ecstatic that the court agreed that voters should be able to vote by mail without worrying that their vote will be arbitrarily rejected because of the State’s unlawful and flawed ID requirements,” said Ashley Harris, attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “We’ve spoken to countless Texans whose votes were rejected when attempting to comply with the State’s broken ID-matching system – and we are proud to secure this win on their behalf.”

“Tossing out mail ballots and mail ballot applications due to irrelevant paperwork errors undermines voters and democracy, and it also violates federal law,” said Ari Savitzky, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “This provision had blocked nearly 40,000 ballots or mail ballot applications during the 2022 elections. The court rightly concluded that this mass disenfranchisement was illegal.”

“This ruling indicating SB 1’s ID matching requirements are unlawful per the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a great victory for voters with disabilities who vote by mail,” said Bob Kafka, state coordinator of REV UP Texas. “The ID matching provisions create additional barriers for many voters with disabilities, leaving them with unequal access to the vote. Voting is a precious and fundamental right, and with this ruling, we are a step closer to removing these barriers thereby making it easier for voters with disabilities to vote and to use their power. NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US.”

“The court’s ruling last week proves that every vote matters, and that Texas’ SB1 mail-in ballot restrictions are a direct violation of the federal Civil Rights Act,” said Debbie Chen, OCA-GH. “This is a win for limited English-speaking Asian American voters; a win for older voters; and a win for voters with disabilities. We are thrilled to see the court’s movement towards ensuring each person’s mail-in ballot is rightly accepted — without SB1’s unnecessary administrative barriers.”

“All Texas voters should have a voice in democracy, and the court’s ruling will help to ensure this,” said Joyce LeBombard, President of the League of Women Voters of Texas. “The ID matching provisions have continued to harm the voters we serve, and we are grateful the court ruled these anti-voter requirements are unlawful.”

“SB1 is a dangerous anti-voter law that threatens our democracy,” said Celina Stewart, chief counsel and senior director of advocacy and litigation at the League of Women Voters of the US. “The court agreed the law’s ID matching requirements disenfranchise voters and the League is proud to stand up and fight against any attempts to suppress voters in Texas and elsewhere in the country.”

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The Texas Civil Rights Project is boldly serving the movement for equality and justice in and out of the courts. We use our tools of litigation and legal advocacy to protect and advance the civil rights of everyone in Texas, and we partner with communities across the state to serve the rising movement for social justice. We undertake our work with a vision of a Texas in which all communities can thrive with dignity, justice and without fear. 

For more than 100 years, the ACLU has worked in courts, legislatures, and communities to protect the constitutional rights of all people. With a nationwide network of offices and millions of members and supporters, the ACLU takes on the toughest civil liberties fights in pursuit of liberty and justice for all.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), a New York-based national organization founded in 1974, protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans. By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all. AALDEF focuses on critical issues affecting Asian Americans, including immigrant rights, voting rights and democracy, economic justice for workers, educational equity, housing and environmental justice, and the elimination of anti-Asian violence.

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. 

Jenner & Block LLP is a law firm with global reach, with offices in Chicago, London, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. For decades, Jenner & Block lawyers have been involved in landmark election law cases, defending access to the ballot. We have represented voters, voting rights organizations, and elected officials in fighting to protect the right to vote.