WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, Nov. 2, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an amicus brief in a case challenging Texas’ “wet signature” law, which requires voters to sign their names with pen on paper, rather than electronically, when registering to vote. Originally brought by the organization Vote.org, the lawsuit argues that a Texas law that requires individuals who register to vote online or by fax to also submit a copy of their application with their signature in ink violates the First and 14th Amendments and Civil Rights Act of 1964. In June, the district court ruled in favor of Vote.org, finding that the law violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act. Texas officials appealed the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where litigation is ongoing.
In its amicus brief, the DOJ argues that the 5th Circuit should uphold the district court’s ruling with respect to the Materiality Provision. Specifically, it urges the 5th Circuit to reject the arguments made by Texas officials that would narrow the scope of the provision and prevent private parties from suing to enforce it. The DOJ argues that the Materiality Provision “creates a personal right to vote” and, as a result, “private plaintiffs may sue to enforce that right.” Additionally, the DOJ argues that “the barest look at the statutory language refutes” the Texas officials’ claim that the provision only applies to racially discriminatory laws and it instead “provides a broader limitation on state or local actions that deny anyone’s right to vote based on immaterial errors or omissions.” Finally, the DOJ rejects the state officials’ contention that the Materiality Provision doesn’t apply to registration laws, their argument that the wet signature rule qualifies as a requirement permitted by the provision and their belief that voter fraud concerns can justify the law.