Democrats Accuse Texas of Voter Suppression

SAN ANTONIO (CN) — Democrats sued the Texas secretary of state in federal court Monday for rejecting more than 2,400 voter registration applications submitted via Vote.org before the 2018 midterm elections.

Would-be voters who used the Vote.org website or the nonprofit’s smartphone application filled out a registration form and snapped a picture of their signatures before uploading them to the organization, which fixed the voters’ signatures to the forms and faxed and mailed copies of the applications to county registrars.

An election official checks a voter’s photo identification at an early voting polling site in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

But on Oct. 4, 2018 — five days before the state’s deadline for voter registration — then-Secretary of State Rolando Pablos declared the applications invalid, stating that digital applications would not be accepted “because they lacked an original, wet signature,” according to the complaint.

“We remind all eligible Texas voters that online voter registration is not available in the State of Texas,” Pablos wrote in a news release that day. “Any web site that misleadingly claims to assist voters in registering to vote online by simply submitting a digital signature is not authorized to do so.”

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa lay the blame at Texas Republicans’ feet.

“For years, Texas Republicans have used every trick possible to make it harder for Texans to vote and to steal elections away from the rising Texas electorate,” Hinojosa said in a statement. “Republicans know Texas is changing, that’s why they continue to enact arbitrary rulings such as banning lawful electronic signatures.”

Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., chairwoman of the co-plaintiff Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, added in the statement: “The reality is Texas’ electronic signature ban does not protect the vote; it only makes it harder for people, particularly folks in rural communities, to register to vote and make their voices heard.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also is a plaintiff. The national committees say they have standing to sue because their constituents were harmed by the state’s rule. They say the rule is inconsistent with other state procedures that use electronic and non-ink signatures to register voters.

“For example, if a person completes a voter registration application at the Department of Public Safety (DPS), DPS must ‘inform the applicant that the applicant’s electronic signature provided to the department will be used for submitting the applicant’s voter registration application,’” the complaint states.

Skyler Howton with Perkins Coie LLP in Dallas filed the lawsuit at about 4:30 p.m. Monday.

The secretary of state’s office was adamant that electronic signatures would not be accepted.

“That’s not allowed in Texas,” said Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the government office, in an interview with NPR’s Austin station published Oct. 4, 2018. “You can’t affix a picture of a signature to an application. That opens up a wide range of possible fraud and abuse.”

County registrars serving Austin and San Antonio processed Vote.org applications; the Bexar County elections administrator, Jacquelyn Callanen, sent letters to voters in the San Antonio area notifying them that their applications were incomplete. The letters had a filled-out application for voters to sign and return within 10 days.

Vote.org also sent Texans stamped, addressed envelopes and forms for would-be voters to mail to their county registrars.

“Our Elections Division instructed Vote.org to change their process immediately in order to comply with state law and avoid misleading Texas voters into submitting invalid registration forms,” Taylor told the San Antonio Express-News that day.

Vote.org now instructs Texas registrants to fill out an online form, which is emailed to applicants with instructions to print, sign and mail the form to the appropriate county elections office.

The plaintiffs want the “wet signature rule” enjoined as unconstitutional and a violation of Texas law.

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