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Federal appeals court overturns Texas voter registration ruling

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] reversed [opinion, PDF] a lower court ruling on Thursday, upholding five provisions of the modified Texas Election Code Section 13 [official website] covering volunteer deputy registrars (VDR's). Voting for America and Project Vote [advocacy website] were two of the four appellees that originally filed the lawsuit against Texas Secretary of State John Steen. According to the Texas Secretary of State [official website], a VDR is entrusted with officially registering voters in the state of Texas. They are appointed by county voter registrars and charged with helping to increase voter registration. The appellees claimed three provisions of the Texas Election Code violated the First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] right to free speech: the non-resident provision, the county provision and the compensation provision. Further, the lawsuit alleged the photocopying provision and the personal delivery provision were preempted by the federal National Voter Registration Act (Motor Voter Act) [DOJ backgrounder]. The Fifth Circuit found insufficient evidence to prove these allegations, reversing a preliminary injunction on the listed provisions issued in 2012.

The relevance of this specific voter registration issue dates back to 2011, when the Texas Legislature passed a series of three bills [TX Secretary of State website] which significantly altered the rules covering VDR registration and training. In August of 2012 Judge Gregg Costa of the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction [order, PDF] against the five aforementioned provisions of the Texas Election Code, ruling in favor of Voting for America and Project Vote. Texas officials then appealed that ruling to the Fifth Circuit.

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