On Sept. 19, Democracy Docket reported on the dramatic rise in GOP anti-voting litigation over the past few years — and that analysis didn’t even include the deluge of redistricting lawsuits currently making their way through the courts. To help you stay on top of everything happening in the courts, we’re starting a new state-specific litigation roundup series where we go state by state and break down all the litigation we’re tracking in each one. For each case, we include the plaintiffs, what they’re arguing, a key quote from the complaints and the lawsuit’s current status.
First up in this series is Texas. They say everything’s bigger in Texas — and that includes courtroom dockets. Here, we round up all the voting-related cases we’re keeping an eye on in the Lone Star State.
Voting rights litigation
Texas voter suppression law
In 2021, Texas enacted Senate Bill 1, an omnibus voter suppression law that restricts almost every method of voting in the state after Texas Democrats’ dramatic efforts failed to block it indefinitely. Multiple lawsuits were filed against S.B. 1 in the following weeks, several of which were consolidated together into a single case.
Date filed: Sept. 3, 2021
Plaintiffs: La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), U.S. Department of Justice, Mi Familia Vota, Houston Justice, OCA-Greater Houston and others
Argument: The plaintiffs collectively challenge multiple provisions of S.B. 1 for violating the U.S. Constitution’s First, 14th and 15th Amendments as well as the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
[A]s described further below, SB1 is a reaction to Texas’s changing electorate, which is now more racially diverse and younger than ever before…the Texas Legislature responded to these community success stories by making baseless claims of threats to ‘election integrity,’ outlawing the very election procedures that made the 2020 election a success, and imposing additional requirements that will make it even harder for Texans—especially those in Texas’s growing minority populations—to participate in our democracy.Complaint
Status: Litigation is ongoing at multiple levels of the court system over discovery issues, motions to dismiss and other procedural motions.
Date filed: Sept. 7, 2021
Plaintiffs: Texas State Conference of the NAACP, Common Cause and individual voters
Argument: The plaintiffs argue that S.B. 1’s restrictions on early voting, drop boxes, drive thru voting, the promotion of mail-in voting by election officials, expansion of the power of partisan poll watchers and strict guidelines for accepting mail-in ballot applications and ballots violate multiple provisions of the Texas Constitution.
Viewed individually or collectively, these provisions of SB 1 gravely threaten the fundamental right to vote of all Texans, but they will hit hardest in communities of color. This is precisely what the legislature intended.Original Petition
Status: Litigation is ongoing.
Texas voter purges challenge
In 2019, Texas tried to remove nearly 100,000 voters — whom the state claimed were noncitizens and thus ineligible — from the rolls. However, county elections officials quickly discovered that tens of thousands of the flagged voters were actually eligible to vote. In response to legal challenges, the Texas secretary of state halted the purge. Last fall, Texas tried to reinitiate a purge, but again election officials found that many of the voters slated for removal were, in fact, eligible to vote. In response, several civil rights groups filed a lawsuit asking the Texas secretary of state to release records related to the purge to see if Texas is sweeping too broadly.
Date filed: Feb. 1, 2022
Plaintiffs: Campaign Legal Center, ACLU Foundation of Texas, Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Demos
Argument: The plaintiffs allege that Texas Secretary of State John B. Scott (R) is failing to produce records pertaining to the state’s voter purge program in violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
DEFENDANT SCOTT has violated, and continues to violate, the NVRA by refusing to make the Requested Records available for inspection within the meaning of the statute.Complaint
Status: On Aug. 2, the district court ordered Scott to produce the documents after finding he violated the NVRA. On Aug. 4, Scott appealed the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and on Aug. 12, the 5th Circuit paused the district court’s ruling. On Aug. 30, the 5th Circuit held an oral argument and its decision is forthcoming.
Texas online registration
In 2018, the Texas secretary of state promulgated a rule that instructed county registrars to reject all voter registration applications that have an e-signature instead of a wet signature (i.e., a signature made with pen on paper). In 2021, the Texas Legislature codified this rule into law through House Bill 3107. Vote.org, a nonprofit voter registration and get-out-the-vote technology platform, filed a lawsuit challenging the law.
Date filed: July 8, 2021
Argument: The plaintiff argues that Texas’ “wet signature” law burdens the right to vote, targets advocacy groups like Vote.org by making it difficult to use online registration tools and allegedly violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Wet Signature Rule imposes unnecessary roadblocks that are not only hopelessly out of step with other provisions of Texas law, but also create undue burdens for voters and the organizations that help them register, all while failing to advance any sufficiently weighty state interest that could justify such restrictions.Complaint
Status: On July 16, 2022, the district court granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, meaning the court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor without a trial and blocked the wet signature law. The decision was appealed to the 5th Circuit, which paused the district court’s ruling and reinstated the wet signature law in the interim. Litigation before the 5th Circuit is ongoing.
Texas residency restriction
In 2021, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1111. The law adds additional residency restrictions to register to vote that prohibit establishing residency “for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a certain election,” restrict individuals from registering using an address where they don’t live full-time and add strict photo ID requirements for voters that use P.O. boxes to register. Shortly after the law was enacted, the Texas State League of Latin American Citizens and Voto Latino filed a lawsuit challenging S.B. 1111.
Date filed: June 22, 2021
Plaintiffs: Texas State League of Latin American Citizens and Voto Latino
Argument: The plaintiffs argue that S.B. 1111 violates the First, 14th and 26th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution by placing onerous restrictions on the voter registration process and chilling political participation. According to the plaintiffs, the law will allegedly have a particularly burdensome impact on college students and other young voters.
SB 1111 is not justified by any compelling or even legitimate state interests. Instead, the bill is a solution in search of a problem, one that does not solve any issues—there is no evidence of fraud or other malfeasance the bill could even conceivably remedy—but instead only creates them.Complaint
Status: On Aug. 2, 2022, the district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, preventing the law from being in effect. The decision was appealed to the 5th Circuit, which paused the district court’s decision on Aug. 26. Litigation before the 5th Circuit is ongoing.
Upcoming dates: The oral argument in the appeal is scheduled for Oct. 6, 2022.
Texas mail-in voting limitations
Texas has some of the most restrictive mail-in voting laws in the country, limiting no-excuse mail-in voting to only voters over the age of 65. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple groups and organizations filed legal challenges to this restriction. One of those cases is still ongoing.
Date filed: April 7, 2020
Plaintiffs: Texas Democratic Party and individual voters
Argument: The plaintiffs argue that portions of the Texas Election Code that restrict who can vote by mail violate the 14th and 26th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, these restrictions should be changed. They also argue the restrictions are racially discriminatory in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Allowing, encouraging, and enforcing state law such that disproportionately white non-Hispanic voters can vote by mail while younger more diverse Texans have to vote in person at polling locations is part and parcel of recent state efforts to unconstitutionally burden voting by racial minorities.Second Amended Complaint
Status: In April 2021, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint renewing their assertion that the restrictions violate Section 2 of the VRA and the 14th and 26th Amendments. On July 22, 2022, the district court dismissed all of the claims. On Aug. 16, 2022, some of the plaintiffs appealed the dismissal to the 5th Circuit.
Texas signature matching
Texas uses a signature matching process to verify the validity of mail-in ballots — even though signature matching, when election workers compare the signature on a voter’s ballot to the one on their voter registration, is notoriously unreliable. Despite this, Texas also doesn’t offer voters an effective mechanism to cure (or fix) their ballots of signature errors. As a result, several civic organizations filed a lawsuit challenging Texas’ signature matching rules.
Date filed: Aug. 7, 2019
Plaintiffs: MOVE Texas Civil Fund, League of Women Voters of Texas, Austin Justice Coalition, Coalition of Texans with Disabilities and individual voters
Argument: The plaintiffs argue that Texas’ signature matching process lacks uniform standards, doesn’t give voters a meaningful opportunity to correct errors, and thus it allegedly violates the 14th Amendment. Additionally, because this process is more likely to disenfranchise voters with disabilities, the lawsuit alleges it also violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act.
Texas unlawfully rejects the duly signed mail-in ballots of thousands of eligible voters every major election…solely on the basis of mismatching signatures.Complaint
Status: The 5th Circuit reversed the district court’s decision that created guidelines for signature matching. On Aug. 13, 2022, the plaintiffs filed a petition in the U.S. Supreme Court asking the Court to hear an appeal of this decision.
Following the results of the 2020 census, Texas redrew its political boundaries in response to the state’s growth and internal population shifts. However, rather than reflect Texas’ growing minority communities, Texas legislators drew the maps to protect Republican incumbents and dilute the voting strength of minorities — partially because Texas no longer has to seek permission under the VRA before enacting new maps. Several lawsuits were filed in response to the new maps, many of which were consolidated into a single case. Other lawsuits in state court are ongoing as well.
Date filed: Oct. 18, 2021
Plaintiffs: League of United Latin American Citizens, U.S. Department of Justice, Fair Maps Texas, NAACP, Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Voto Latino and others
Argument: Collectively, the plaintiffs argue that the new district maps for Congress, the state House, the state Senate and board of education violate the U.S. Constitution’s 14th and 15th Amendments and Section 2 of the VRA. Specifically, the plaintiffs claim the maps were drawn to intentionally discriminate on the basis of race and dilute the voting strength of minorities.
The Legislature refused to recognize the State’s growing minority electorate. Although the Texas Congressional delegation expanded from 36 to 38 seats, Texas designed the two new seats to have Anglo voting majorities. Texas also intentionally eliminated a Latino electoral opportunity in Congressional District 23, a West Texas district where courts had identified Voting Rights Act violations during the previous two redistricting cycles. It failed to draw a seat encompassing the growing Latino electorate in Harris County. And it surgically excised minority communities from the core of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.Complaint
Status: Multiple members of the Texas Legislature are fighting subpoenas for depositions. Litigation over the subpoenas is ongoing in both the district court and 5th Circuit, delaying the start of a trial over the maps.
Date filed: Nov. 3, 2021
Plaintiff: Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives
Argument: The plaintiffs allege the new Texas House districts violate the “county line rule” of the Texas Constitution, which requires that counties with sufficient populations be kept whole.
[The Texas House map] on its face violates the express, plain language of the county line rule by splitting the Cameron County line twice, extending in two different directions into two different contiguous counties to form two distinct state representative districts.Complaint
Status: The Texas Supreme Court dismissed most of the plaintiffs’ claims and remanded the remaining claim from one of the plaintiffs back to the trial court for further litigation.
Date filed: Sept. 1, 2021
Plaintiffs: State Sens. Roland Gutierrez (D) and Sarah Eckhardt (D) and Tejano Democrats
Argument: The plaintiffs argue that, according to the Texas Constitution, the Legislature cannot draw new districts until the next regular session in January 2023. Accordingly, they ask a federal court to step in and draw an interim map.
[T]he Texas Constitution forbids the first legislative reapportionment to occur in anything but a regular legislative session. This prohibition results from the Constitution’s text, its structure, and from strong precedent from the Supreme Court of Texas.Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Preliminary Injunction
Status: The case is currently paused pending the resolution of Mexican American Legislative Caucus v. Abbott in Texas state court.
States aren’t the only governments that have to draw new districts after each census — plenty of local governments have to draw new lines as well. Galveston County redrew its Commissioners Court precincts last year. However, like Texas, the county no longer had to get permission from a federal court or the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to enact a new map (a process called preclearance). As a result, Galveston approved a map that is substantially similar to one blocked by the DOJ in 2011. Three lawsuits were filed challenging the new map, which were consolidated into a single case.
Date filed: Feb. 15, 2022
Plaintiffs: Galveston County voters, Department of Justice and NAACP
Argument: The plaintiffs collectively argue the new district lines for Galveston County’s Commissioners Court precincts are racially gerrymandered, cracking Black and Latino voters across the four districts in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th and 15th Amendments. They also argue the map violates Section 2 of the VRA.
Despite the increase in the population of Black and Latino voters, the County made radical changes to the Commissioners precincts for the purpose of denying Black and Latino voters the opportunity to elect their preferred candidate.First Amended Complaint
Status: Litigation in the district court is underway, with the court considering motions to dismiss from the defendants.
For an in-depth review of legal updates at the end of each month, subscribe to our monthly newsletter, The Brief, and keep an eye out for future pieces in the 50 States of Lawsuits series. As always, you can stay up to date on important cases and court decisions on our Cases and Alerts pages.