Texas Democratic Party v. Abbott

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At a Glance

CLC is challenging Texas’s strict limitations on who can vote absentee even during the pendency of the COVID-19 crisis, which force voters to choose between jeopardizing their health by voting in person or not voting at all.

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About this Case

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is representing League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and its Texas chapter in their efforts to extend the right to vote by mail to all voters in Texas’s upcoming elections this July and November, 2020, so that Texas voters will not have to choose between their right to vote and their health in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. This lawsuit challenges Texas’s restrictive eligibility criteria for requesting and casting absentee ballots, which deny a majority of Texans the ability to vote by mail—particularly Latino and younger voters.

Texas law restricts access to absentee ballots to voters who meet one of a handful of specific eligibility criteria: voters who (1) will be away from their county on Election Day and during the entire early voting period; (2) are sick or disabled; (3) are 65 years of age or older on Election Day; or (4) are confined in jail, but eligible to vote. Texas officials have threatened criminal prosecution of voters who attempt to cast mail ballots who do not meet these specific criteria, including those who would prefer to vote by mail due to fear of contracting or spreading COVID-19 by voting in person.

These policies have a disproportionate impact on Texas’s Latino community and younger voters. CLC serves as counsel for the League of United Latin American Citizens and its Texas chapter in challenging these policies.

On March 27, 2020, a lawsuit was filed in Texas state court alleging that participating in social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is “a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day,” satisfying the requirements of Texas law.

On April 17, 2020, a state court judge in Travis County issued a written order granting a temporary injunction and enjoining Travis County and the State of Texas from rejecting mail-in ballots received from voters who elected to vote by mail based on the disability category of eligibility as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state immediately appealed, and the Texas Attorney General’s office advised all county election officials that the state court’s ruling does not change the eligibility criteria for mail-in ballots, and that the state court’s order has no effect during the appeal. Moreover, Attorney General Ken Paxton has threatened criminal penalties for any Texas voter who attempts to follow the state court’s ruling and vote by mail claiming COVID-19 as an excuse.

In the midst of an ongoing public health crisis, the Constitution does not permit Texas to force its voters to choose between their health and their exercise of the fundamental right to vote. These restrictions and threats of prosecution fall disproportionately on Texas’s Latino population, who are particularly susceptible to infection and death from COVID-19. Latino voters in Texas are also significantly younger than the average Texas voting population, which means they are unable to avail themselves of the over-65 exception to the absentee eligibility criteria.

On April 7, 2020, the Texas Democratic Party filed a complaint in federal court challenging Texas’s restrictions on mail-in ballots, and on April 29, 2020, the party moved for a preliminary injunction. On May 11, 2020, CLC moved to intervene in the federal case on behalf of LULAC and Texas LULAC. As nonpartisan civil rights organizations committed to serving the Latino community in Texas and nationwide, LULAC and Texas LULAC are uniquely positioned to provide the court with necessary perspective on the particular burdens that the state’s extreme policies are placing on minority communities’ fundamental right to vote.

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