Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
Voting Rights

Voting Rights Advocates Challenge Unsafe and Unequal Elections in Texas during a Pandemic 

Complaint Filed on behalf of Mi Familia Vota, the Texas NAACP, and individual Texas voters seeks to ensure that Texas in-person voters will be able to cast their votes safely.

SAN ANTONIO, TX (July 15, 2020) – Today, Mi Familia Vota, the Texas NAACP, and individual Texas voters filed a lawsuit in federal court in Texas challenging Texas’s in-person election practices, which are unsafe, high risk, and unequal during the COVID-19 pandemic. Free Speech For People, the law firm of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, and the law firm of Lyons & Lyons represent the plaintiffs in this case.

The lawsuit alleges that the state’s reliance on repeat-touch voting machines, its insufficient number of polling places, its limited and inaccessible early voting locations, and its voter identification requirements will result in unsafe voting conditions and increased risk of coronavirus transmission, which in turn will result in voter suppression. The health risks and adverse impact of these policies will place an undue burden on the right to vote and be borne disproportionately by voters of color, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law, the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and Fifteenth Amendment, and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

“Latinos are fired up and ready to vote in Texas. Our community is being hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. No one should have to choose between voting and getting sick during this crisis. We know that voting is a constitutionally protected right, and, in these uncertain times, we should be giving Texans voting options that are all safe, healthy, and accessible, so that they can decide the one that best fits them,” says Angelica Razo, Mi Familia Vota Texas State Director.

“Today we stand for the people of Texas, because unless someone can step outside the proverbial political bubble and act with clarity, we will all suffer greatly without regard to our political affiliation. The United States Supreme Court has already invited a case to address polling place safety in a Covid-19 environment, and since our State’s current guidelines offer no real value to protect voters, it is incumbent upon us to bring such a case forth for the sake of all Texans. It is Constitutionally impermissible to require voters to unreasonably risk their lives in order to exercise their cherished right to vote,” says Gary Bledsoe, President of the Texas NAACP.

“Voters should not have to risk their lives, health, or the health of their families, in order to vote, and they should not have to choose disenfranchisement in order to protect themselves,” says Courtney Hostetler, Counsel at Free Speech For People. “During this pandemic, election policies that create unnecessary risk to the health and safety of voters are unconstitutional. Texas officials must ensure that in-person voting is safe and accessible, including for voters and communities that are most vulnerable to serious COVID-19 illness.”

“While the country engages critical conversations about racial equity, and yet Covid-19 disproportionately harms Black and Brown communities, it is critical that Texas take the necessary steps to ensure that Black and Brown voters do not get sacrificed to a wholly avoidable public health crisis merely by exercising their constitutional rights,” says Kelly Dermody of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein.

“The state of Texas and our governor claim they want to protect the right to vote for those who will choose not to wear a mask to the polls. But what about the rights of voters reasonably fearing infection spread by those who will come to the polls not wearing a mask? The remedies sought in this lawsuit will enable more early voting and expanded voting locations. They will reduce lines and crowding on election day. These remedies will actually protect the right to vote for all Texans,” says Sean Lyons of Lyons & Lyons.

More than 2.3 million Americans have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began. 120,000 have died; many others experienced a debilitating disease that has resulted in hospital stays and lengthy recovery times. In Texas, the first surge of the pandemic is still trending upwards, with the number of cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities on the rise in June. Public health experts warn that the crisis will likely to worsen in Texas without immediate and serious interventions. Moreover, public health experts warn that a second wave of COVID-19 is likely to occur in the fall, coinciding with the November 2020 general elections, and may be worse than the first. Due to existing socioeconomic and healthcare disparities, Black and Latino citizens have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are at higher risk of serious COVID-19 illness, resulting in higher rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death.

Through this lawsuit, plaintiffs seek injunctive relief to secure safe, constitutional voting practices for Texas. Specifically, the complaint seeks:

  • Suspension of Texas law that limits mobile early voting, to enable counties to bring early voting to rural and mobility-limited populations in a safe manner.
  • Extension of the duration of early voting
  • Prohibition of any reduction in the number of polling places in Texas
  • The opening of additional polling places in counties where lines typically exceed 20 minutes
  • The option of voting on hand-marked paper ballots, while maintaining working machines that are thoroughly disinfected after each vote to protect voters who need to use these machines to vote.
  • Implementation of social distancing at all polling places

Free Speech For People, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, and Lyons & Lyons LLP represent the plaintiffs pro bono. The lawsuit names Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs as defendants.

Read the complaint here.