Court Finds that Texas Law Requiring the Rejection of Mail Ballots and Applications Violates the Civil Rights Act
Provided by DOJ
WASHINGTON – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled yesterday that portions of Texas Senate Bill 1, adopted in September 2021, violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court found that parts of S.B. 1 require officials to reject mail-in ballot applications and mail-in ballots based on errors or omissions that are not material in determining whether voters are qualified under Texas law to vote or cast a mail ballot.
“The District Court’s decision affirms what the Justice Department has argued for nearly two years: these provisions of Texas Senate Bill 1 unlawfully restrict the ability of eligible Texas voters to vote by mail and to have that vote counted,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Justice Department will continue to defend against unlawful efforts that undermine the right to vote and restrict participation in our democracy.”
“In requiring rejection of mail ballots and mail ballot applications from eligible voters based on minor paperwork errors or omissions, Texas Senate Bill 1 violates the Civil Rights Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This ruling sends a clear message that states may not impose unlawful and unnecessary requirements that disenfranchise eligible voters seeking to participate in our democracy. The Justice Department will continue to use every available tool to protect all Americans’ right to vote and to ensure that their voices are heard.”
The court issued a preliminary ruling yesterday in favor of the United States’ motion for summary judgment, which asserts that two provisions of S.B. 1 violate Section 101 of the Civil Rights Act by requiring rejection of mail ballots and mail ballot request forms because of paperwork errors that are not material to establishing a voter’s eligibility to cast a ballot. The first provision requires that early voting clerks “shall reject” mail ballot applications that do not include a Texas driver’s license or ID number that identifies “the same voter identified on the applicant’s application for voter registration.” The second provision provides that a mail ballot “may be accepted only if” the ID numbers on the carrier envelope or signature sheet identifies “the same voter identified on the applicant’s application for voter registration.”
Section 5.07 requires that early voting clerks “shall reject” mail ballot applications that do not include a Department of Public Safety (DPS) number or the last four digits of a Social Security Number (SSN) that identifies “the same voter identified on the applicant’s application for voter registration.” Section 5.13 provides that a mail ballot “may be accepted only if” the DPS number or last four digits of an SSN on the carrier envelope or signature sheet identifies “the same voter identified on the applicant’s application for voter registration.”
The United States presented evidence to the court that S.B. 1 has resulted in Texas election officials rejecting tens of thousands of mail ballot applications and mail ballots cast in elections since the bill was enacted in 2021. The Department asserts that these rejections violate federal law, denying Texas voters the statutory right to vote protected by Section 101.
Yesterday’s preliminary ruling from the court grants the Justice Department’s motion for summary judgment, which the Department filed in May 2023, in its entirety. The decision addresses the Justice Department’s sole pending claim in La Unión del Pueblo Entero v. Abbott, No. 5:21-cv-844 (WDTX), a case in which the United States and several private parties are challenging various aspects of S.B. 1. The court noted that the ruling will be followed in the coming weeks by a final written opinion and order. A group of private plaintiffs will be going to trial on the remaining claims in the case, which have not yet been resolved. That trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 11.
Complaints about discriminatory practices may be reported to the Civil Rights Division through its internet reporting portal at www.civilrights.justice.gov or by calling (800) 253-3931.
Additional information about the Civil Rights Division’s work to uphold and protect the voting rights of all Americans is available on the Justice Department’s website at www.justice.gov/crt/voting-section.
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