Some 5,000 Texans who used a P.O. box as a voter registration address will likely be able to cast a ballot in the state’s midterm elections after a federal judge blocked a 2021 state election law.Senate Bill 1111 attempted to tighten residency guidelines for Texas voters, but was struck down this month by U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel, an appointee under former president George W. Bush.
Yeakel, who presides over the Austin Division for the Western District of Texas, found in a summary judgement that the state used vague language in the election law and parts of it failed constitutional scrutiny.
Texas’ Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the decision last week to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, according to State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who authored the election bill.
Texas’ Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas at the Hilton Anatole Aug. 5, 2022. (Bobby Sanchez/The Epoch Times)
“There is no one that can live inside a P.O. box,” Bettencourt pointed out in a statement earlier this month.
Bettencourt told The Epoch Times he was disappointed in the decision against a “common-sense voter integrity bill.”
The bill required people registering to vote with a P.O. box to show proof of address such as a driver’s license or utility bill.
Some 5,000 people were registered to vote in Harris County alone using a P.O. box in 2020, Bettencourt said.
As of this month, the number is around 4,800 because some of the records were processed before the law was blocked.
The actual number using P.O. boxes to register statewide would make the total higher, he added, saying he expects the number could climb before voter registration ends in October without the law.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (3R) signs Senate Bill 1, also known as the election integrity bill into law with others clapping and looking on in Tyler, Texas, on Sept. 7, 2021. (Marina Fatina/NTD)
The Republican-led Texas Legislature passed the bill along with others in an attempt to guard against election fraud after the 2020 election.
The lawsuit filed by the Texas chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens and Voto Latino, a nonprofit that seeks to mobilize voters, called those requirements in SB 1111 an unnecessary burden on voters.
The Latino groups claimed voter suppression against six large counties controlled by Democrats: Travis, Bexas, Harris, Hidalgo, Dallas, and El Paso.
“This measure imposes vague, onerous restrictions on the voter registration process, chilling political participation and further burdening the abilities of lawful voters to cast their ballots and make their voices heard.” Texas LULAC state director Rodolfo Rosales said in a statement after filing the suit.
Maria Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino, celebrated the decision.
“The true intent of this discriminatory measure has always been about suppressing voter turnout—especially among young people, communities of color, low-income voters, and other historically marginalized groups,” she said in an August statement.
The State of Texas was not a party to the lawsuit at first and had to intervene in order to appeal the decision. Had that not happened, it would have been up to the Democratic controlled counties to appeal.
Bettencourt said suits filed against Democratic-controlled local governments by friendly liberal organizations is a new tactic to get around Texas’ voter integrity laws because the entity being sued will “agree with the suit.”
Hans von Spakousky, an election law reform manger for the Heritage Foundation, said every state has residency requirements.
For a judge to rule against a state law requiring verification of residency would appear political, he said.
Friendly groups suing each other is a tactic to get a favorable outcome, he said. “They’re hoping for a collusive settlement.”