GALVESTON, Texas (CN) - A nonprofit claims Texas is denying minorities the right to register to vote, and using an illegal section of the Texas Election Code to block the group from seeing rejected voter registration applications.
Voting For America Inc. sued Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade and Galveston County Tax Assessor and Voter Registrar Cheryl Johnson, in Federal Court.
Co-plaintiffs Brad Richey and Penelope McFadden, of Galveston County, claim they were illegally kicked off the voting rolls or not allowed to register.
"Population growth in Texas exceeds most other states," the complaint states. "Notwithstanding this growth, many voter registration rolls throughout the state remain stagnant. Voter registration policies enacted or supported by the Texas Secretary of State over at least the past decade have contributed to a decline in the overall percentage of registered voters.
"In many cases, the voter registration provisions culpable for this decline particularly prevent African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and other racial minorities from becoming registered voters.
"Currently, rejection levels of new voter registration applications are at record highs in various counties throughout the state. Election officials have adopted novel strategies for blocking the public from viewing registration records, thereby shielding the registration process and the activities of registrars from public scrutiny. Voter registration drives, once a universally supported and accepted civic practice, are under attack by the very state officials charged with ensuring that all eligible citizens are registered."
Voting For America claims the defendants are using a section of the Texas Election Code - which violates the National Voter Registration Act - to block its access "to inspect and copy the completed voter registration records of prospective registrants in 2010 whose applications were rejected by the Harris County Registrar's Office." Harris County is based in Houston.
The nonprofit claims that Texas recently passed several regulations that restrict the work of "volunteer deputy registrars," and expose them to threat of criminal prosecution for not following "the state's onerous restrictions."
"Galveston County has even enforced a state bill requiring voters to present photo identification, although the federal government has not cleared that regulation to become law. According to the Supremacy Clause, federal law prevents the application of this horde of regulations," Voting For America says.
It adds: "Defendants' refusal to turn over the records prevents Voting for America and the public from determining if the applications were lawfully rejected and whether there are any systemic election administration problems in Galveston County, Harris County, and other jurisdictions around the state.
"Analysis of the rejected applications from 2010 is essential to identifying and correcting any existing election administration problems in advance of the 2012 elections and ensuring that any voter registration drives that may be conducted by Voting for America or similar organizations during the upcoming election cycle will be successful in terms of registering the highest number of qualified applicants."
Voting For America, which is based in Washington, D.C., says its volunteers run voter registration drives before and during election campaigns, and that it "works to empower, educate and mobilize low-income, minority, youth, and other marginalized and underrepresented voters."
It claims that Galveston County wrongfully placed plaintiff Brady Richey on a voter suspension list, and refused to let plaintiff Penelope McFadden register by unlawfully concluding that her address is not residential because she lives on a boat, and gets her mail at a P.O. Box.
"In November of 2011, Plaintiffs Richey and McFadden went to the polls to vote in local elections, where they were informed that they were on the voter suspension list. Neither Plaintiff Richey nor Plaintiff McFadden ever received written notice prior to being placed on a suspension list," the complaint states.
"Despite being in possession of voter registration certificates, Plaintiffs Richey and McFadden were required to show photo identification to verify their eligibility to vote.
"More than 10,000 voters, many of whom have been registered for a decade or more in Galveston County, have been placed on a suspension list and/or have been required to show photo identification at the polls."
McFadden and Richey say they asked to participate as volunteer deputy registrars, "but were discouraged in light of the State of Texas and Galveston County's onerous requirements."
Voting For America seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to stop defendants from enforcing sections of the Texas Election Code that violate the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
Plaintiffs' lead counsel is Chad Dunn with Brazil & Dunn, of Houston, assisted by Dicky Grigg with Spivey & Grigg of Austin, and Ryan Malone with Ropes & Gray of Washington, D.C.