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Lawsuit Challenges State’s Absentee Voting Restrictions

Austin, Texas — Today, the Texas NAACP joined with a group of voters and organizations supported by the National Redistricting Foundation is filing a new lawsuit in Texas challenging several Texas election laws including the state’s absentee voting restrictions. There are five individual Plaintiffs including one of our members from Waco, Linda Lewis, and additional organizations– Voto Latino and the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans.

The President of Texas NAACP, Gary Bledsoe, said “this is part of a national strategy of our CEO Derrick Johnson to fight voter suppression efforts nationwide but to also do any and everything we can legally to save lives. Our State sadly has not taken sufficient steps to make voting safe for those who appear in person, so we believe that we can help avoid the Wisconsin problem by being proactive. African-Americans and Latinos have disproportionately suffered the brunt of the impact from the Covid-19 crisis nationally but if we are successful we will save many lives of all races and ethnicities by reducing those who find it necessary to vote in person.”

Texas NAACP Legal Redress Chair Robert Notzon notes that this lawsuit challenges four restrictions on ballots submitted by mail: (1) the requirement that voters pay for postage to return ballots by mail (“Postage Tax”); (2) the requirement that returned ballots be postmarked by 7:00 p.m. on election day and received by 5:00 p.m. the following day (“Ballot Receipt Deadline); (3) the requirement that voters submit handwriting samples that “match” (“Signature Match Requirement”); and (4) the criminalization of third party assistance in returning marked ballots (“Voter Assistance Ban”). The case was filed in federal court, in the Western District of Texas, San Antonio division.

According to Texas NAACP Legal Redress Co-Chair Jesse Gaines, the lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction from this Court enjoining:

  • the Postage Tax, to ensure that lawful, eligible voters are not disenfranchised as a result of their inability to procure postage to return their mail-in ballots;
  • the Ballot Receipt Deadline, to ensure that lawful, eligible voters are not disenfranchised provided that their ballots are put in the mail on or before election day and received before the canvass of the election;
  • the Signature Match Requirement, to ensure that lawful, eligible voters are not disenfranchised as a result of inaccurate signature “matching” by persons unqualified to accurately evaluate the authenticity of signatures and with no opportunity to cure a misflagged mismatch to save their ballot from being rejected; and
  • the Voter Assistance Ban, to ensure that voters in need of assistance in delivering their marked vote-by-mail ballots receive that assistance.

Bledsoe said that many voters due to age and sight restrictions and their isolation will be in need of assistance in voting and the Texas restrictions are intended and designed to prevent minority voters from receiving the necessary assistance. He further noted that the signature match requirement cannot be successfully handled by untrained personnel. Experts have ways of knowing that handwriting is the same, but our Texas system empowers the individual with their own history, limitations and biases to make decisions that may have the effect of disenfranchising people. Bledsoe further noted that at last count 31 voters were infected with the virus from the Wisconsin primary and that shows the enormous risk in having long lines at the polls this November. Because Texas infection rate and deaths from COVID-19 continue to rise, along with the re-opening of the Texas economy with few restrictions on consumers, we fully expect that we will have an enormous problem in our state as we lead up to the election.

You can download a filed copy of the complaint here.