Texas Fights Lashes Over |Its Hurdles to Voting

     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Texas officials got up swinging this week after a federal judge found the state’s exclusion of interpreters at polling sites unconstitutional, and said they will ask the Supreme Court to reverse another ruling that found its voter ID law discriminatory.
     The late Mallika Das, a naturalized citizen born in India, took her son with her to the polls in Williamson County for an October 2014 midterm election because she was not fluent in English.
     Her son, Saurabh Das, told a poll official he was there to translate for his mother, but when he said he was not registered to vote in Williamson County, but in neighboring Travis County, he was not allowed to translate for her.
     Mallika Das and The Organization of Chinese Americans-Greater Houston sued Texas, its Secretary of State Carlos Cascos and Williamson County in August 2015, claiming its law on interpreters at the polls violates the Voting Rights Act.
     The Organization for Chinese Americans, is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit with more than 100 chapters throughout the U.S. that advocates for the civil rights of Asian-Pacific Americans.
     The Texas Election Code’s “Assistance and Interpretation Provisions” require that interpreters be registered voters in the county.
     But Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act states: “Any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write may be given assistance by a person of the voter’s choice, other than the voter’s employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter’s union.”
     Plaintiffs’ attorney Jerry Vattamala, with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said his organization took on the case because Texas law disproportionately affects Asian-Americans who are not proficient in English.
     Vattamala said each of the state’s 254 counties provides election materials in Spanish to Hispanic voters, but only one county, Harris, the state’s most populous, translates the ballot into Vietnamese and Chinese.
     Houston is Harris County’s seat. More than 280,000 Asians live in the county, about 6 percent of the population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
     “The other point is, almost always when Asians bring an interpreter with them inside the poll site, it’s their minor child, and obviously they can’t be registered voters,” Vattamala said in an interview.
     U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman sided with Mallika Das and OCA-Greater Houston on Aug. 12. He granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs and barred Texas from enforcing its law limiting interpreters at poll sites.
     Das died in June at 60. “My mother would have been pleased to see this outcome,” Saurabh Das told the Houston Chronicle.
     Judge Pitman, a President Barack Obama appointee, ordered OCA-Greater Houston to propose remedies by Friday to implement his order.
     Vattamala said he will offer these suggestions for the state to bring Texas into compliance with the Voting Rights Act: Send emails to all election judges in Texas to notify them they cannot mandate that interpreters be registered voters in the county, and change the secretary of state’s website and poll worker training materials to reflect the ruling.
     “We may request that jurisdictions, counties or maybe even the secretary of state himself retain records of any voters that encounter any issues with Section 208 and being able to use an interpreter of their choice,” Vattamala said.
     Texas should have taken a cue from Williamson County, which settled in April, agreeing to retrain poll workers to accept all interpreters, Vattamala said.
     Texas’s decision to keep fighting needlessly cost taxpayers attorney’s fees, as the state was clearly in violation of the Voting Rights Act, Vattamala said.
     Taxpayers’ tab will grow in another Texas voting case, as Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday he will appeal to the Supreme Court a recent Fifth Circuit ruling that found the state’s voter ID law discriminates against minorities.
     An estimated 600,000 voters lacked one of seven acceptable forms of ID.
     The Fifth Circuit ordered Texas to roll back the law for the November election. The state will let voters vote by presenting a paycheck, utility bill, bank statement or certified birth certificate, along with a signed affidavit declaring why they could not get an acceptable photo ID.
     Texas will wait until after the November elections to appeal the voter ID ruling to the Supreme Court, a spokeswoman for Paxton’s office said Thursday.

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