State of Texas

Texas Voter Assistance Limitations Challenge

OCA-Greater Houston v. Texas

Lawsuit filed by the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA)–Greater Houston and a voter against Texas and its election officials challenging a provision of the Texas Election Code that limits the ability of voters with little to no English language proficiency to receive assistance from an individual of their choice to help with completing ballots. The plaintiffs assert that under the state’s election law, which requires interpreters to be “a registered voter of the county in which the voter needing the interpreter resides,” many voters will be precluded from participating in the election process. The plaintiffs argue that the challenged provision of the Texas Election Code violates Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which guarantees “any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of…inability to read or write may be given assistance by a person of the voter’s choice other than the voter’s employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter’s union.”

In April 2016, both the plaintiffs and defendants filed motions for summary judgment asking the court to decide the case without a trial. On Aug. 12, 2016, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, declaring the challenged provision of the Texas Election Code in violation of the VRA for “arbitrarily requiring the interpreter to be registered to vote in the county where assistance is being sought,” and enjoined the defendants from engaging in practices that fail to comply with Section 208. 

Subsequently, the defendants appealed the district court’s decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court in large part affirmed the district court’s decision, but deemed the district court’s injunction overly broad and ordered the lower court to narrow its injunction to only apply to the Texas Election Code provision that the plaintiffs originally challenged. Upon remand, the district court issued a narrower version of its permanent injunction which blocked the provision requiring that interpreters must be registered to vote in the same county as the voter in need of assistance. The district court also blocked an additional provision of the Texas Election Code that required assistance to occur exclusively “in the voting booth,” noting that the defendants neglected the fact that Section 208 contemplates the need for assistance throughout the entire voting process. 

In January 2022, the plaintiffs filed a motion to modify the permanent injunction issued by the district court in 2018. Specifically, they asked the court for a modification to account for three newly amended provisions of the Texas Election Code modified by Senate Bill 1, Texas’ omnibus voter suppression law, that would violate the “objectives” of the injunction and Section 208. In June 2022, the court granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs’ motion for modification of the 2018 injunction, ensuring that the provisions of S.B. 1 that contravened the 2018 order were prohibited from being enforced.

Case Documents