GALVESTON, Texas (CN) – Texas put unconstitutional limits on voter-registration drives, a federal judge ruled, siding with groups that said the rules would keep minorities from the polls.
Project Vote, a Washington-based nonprofit, filed suit in February 2012 alongside side its affiliate Voting for America and Galveston County residents Brad Richey and Penelope McFadden, who claimed that they had been illegally kicked off voting rolls.
Voting for America helps develop voter-registration drives in black and Latino communities. It took issue with several laws Texas passed in 2011 that restrict the work of volunteer deputy registrars, individuals appointed by county voter registrars to increase voter registration in the state.
These new requirements limit volunteer registrar eligibility to Texas residents. They also bar the volunteer registrars from accepting applications until they have completed state-approved training.
Individuals who pay, or accept payment, based on the number of newly registered voters have committed a misdemeanor under the new regulations.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa refused to dismiss the claims against Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade and Galveston County Tax Assessor and Voter Registrar Cheryl Johnson on the basis of standing.
The 94-page ruling also grants the preliminary injunction against a regulation that prohibits volunteer registrars from photocopying applications they collect, and it frees the volunteers from having to personally deliver collected applications to the appropriate county registrar.
After finding that the federal National Voter Registration Act pre-empts those rules, Costa also blocked three other Texas laws on First Amendment grounds.
The injunction takes aim at the Texas residency requirement for volunteer registrars, stating that Texas failed to support its claims that fraud is rampant in states that let all Americans do voter-registration work.
“There is a host of other activities aimed at influencing the political process – making speeches, donating money to campaigns, or drafting and distributing campaign literature, to name just a few-that non-Texans are allowed to perform,” he wrote. “The state has not justified its singling out of third-party voter registration activity as the one area of campaign activity off-limits to Americans from other states.”
The injunction also allows volunteers to collect applications from residents of counties in which the volunteer was not specifically appointed and trained. The volunteers can then deliver these applications to the appropriate county registrar.
“The secretary was unable to identify any other state having a similar county-by-county appointment or training requirement,” Costa wrote. “Because there is no evidence or reason to believe that the practices of all the other states, which do not require appointment of individual registrars let alone on a county-by-county basis, have a higher incidence of voter registration fraud than Texas, defendants are unable to show that the county limitation plays a meaningful role in combating fraud.”
Voter-registration quotas as a condition of payment or employment are no longer illegal under the injunction either, and the state cannot ban employers from tying jobs or salaries to the number of voter registrations an employee facilitates.
This ban unnecessarily blocks employers “from terminating ineffective employees whose efforts are not worth the wages paid or from rewarding those who are particularly effective,” Costa wrote.
The judge declined to enjoin any other laws for now, and he did not address the claims that Galveston County kicked Richey and McFadden off its voting rolls illegally
because there was no motion on the claims specific to Galveston County.