The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected challenges to Texas’s new voting restrictions in three separate 2-1 decisions on Wednesday. The decisions are a continuation of what the Department of Justice (DOJ) has called “some of the strictest limitations in the nation on the right of certain citizens to receive voting assistance.”
The first case, Richardson v. Texas Secretary of State, challenged the constitutionality of the state’s system for verifying signatures on mail-in ballots. The claim alleged that Texas Election Code (TEC) § 84.001 violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Section 84.001 tasks the Early Voting Ballot Board (EVBB) or the Signature Verification Committee (SVC) with processing mail-in ballots. Either the EVBB or SVC may “accept or reject ballots based on signature comparisons.”
The plaintiffs challenged the system on the basis that disabled individuals who have witnesses sign mail-in ballot applications were likely to have their applications for mail-in ballots rejected after signature comparisons. The court found this claim to be barred by the Secretary of State’s sovereign immunity.
The second case, Lewis v. Scott, challenged regulations on mail-in ballots, specifically those requiring voters to pay postage on mail-in ballots and criminalization of “knowingly possessing another person’s mail-in ballot.” Here, the plaintiff’s contended that TEC § 86.002 “unlawfully burdened the right to vote in violation of the First, Fourteenth, and Twenty-Fourth Amendments.”
The court rejected this claim as well finding that the TEC “delineates between the authority of the Secretary of State and local officials.” The court explained that “it is local prosecutors, not the Secretary, who [is] charged with enforcement of the criminal prohibitions on possessing a voter’s mail-in ballot” while the statutes “refute any notion that the Secretary enforces them.” In any event, the court also found this suit to be barred by sovereign immunity.
The third case, Texas Alliance for Retired Americans v. Scott, challenged a provision in Texas House Bill 25, which eliminated “straight-ticket” voting. Plaintiffs claimed that eliminating straight-ticket voting, which is “casting a vote for all the nominees of one party” would lengthen polling lines and therefore burden voting rights. This challenge noted that TEC § 31.001 describes the Secretary of State as “chief election officer.”
However, the court found that the “general duties” of the Secretary “fail to make the Secretary the enforcer of specific election code violations.” The majority found that “the Secretary of State does not enforce the law that ended straight-ticket voting” and determined that the Secretary was the improper defendant for the claim.
Despite these voting restrictions, Texas Secretary of State John Scott tweeted that the 2.9 million ballots cast in the state’s midterm primary was “more people and a higher percentage of voters than any midterm primary in the past decade.”