Judge Blocks Texas' New Voter Registration Laws, Calls Registration Drives "Vital"

A U.S. District Court judge in Galveston yesterday blocked five parts of Texas' new voter registration laws, all of which were aimed at curtailing large voter registration drives. Voting for America and Project Vote, two affiliated national projects that hire canvassers to register new voters, had sued Galveston County Tax Assessor-Collector Cheryl Johnson and Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade back in February.

In his ruling, Judge Gregg Costa found that Texas imposes "more burdensome regulations" than most other states on anyone who registers other people to vote.

"While other states may restrict an activity here or prescribe a regulation there, no other state of which this Court is aware has gone as far as Texas in creating a regulatory web that controls so many aspects of third-party voter registration activity," he wrote.

Costa granted a temporary injunction against five specific rules, including:

- A ban on non-Texans registering voters in the state

- A requirement that those "volunteer deputy registrars" could only register people in the county where they were appointed

- A rule prohibiting registrars from submitting completed applications by mail

- A rule that kept them from photo-copying non-confidential information before submitting the applications

- A rule that kept organizations from firing registrars based on their performance or the number of people they registered.

However, he didn't block rules requiring registrars to undergo state-approved training, carry their certification with them and examine filled-out voter forms for completeness.

The judge wrote that voter registration drives "have played a vital role in increasing participation in the political process." He added that this has been "especially true in minority communities with historically lower rates of voter registration. Census figures indicate that a significant percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics voting in the last presidential election registered through voter registration drives and other third-party voter registration activities." (Not that state politicians might want to restrict voter registration drives to disenfranchise minority voters or anything. No. Certainly not that.)

Despite the fact that this is only a preliminary injunction, Voting For America and Project Vote sent out a press release declaring "a victory."

"Voter registration policies in Texas, over at least the past decade, created an environment hostile to voter registration," said Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote, in the release. "Today's ruling restores the rights of Texas citizens to participate in our democracy."

Meanwhile, the state is still awaiting a ruling in the federal trial over whether the voter ID law is in fact super racist. That decision is expected by the end of August.

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan