Texas NAACP, ADL Southwest seek to join ballot application lawsuit

The Texas State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the NAACP) and the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL’s) Southwest Region filed a petition in intervention in State of Texas v. Chris Hollins, a lawsuit seeking to block the Harris County clerk from sending election materials and resources, including ballot-by-mail applications, to the county’s registered voters.

“The state of Texas has purely and simply returned to its old ways, once again overtly engaging in voter suppression,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP. “This action, if successful, is more than likely to lead to the dangerous spread of the coronavirus, forcing people to go to the polls who may have had an option to stay away. The more people who vote in person, the more people there are who will likely contract the virus. Since the Supreme Court of Texas has granted individuals the right to vote absentee if they have underlying conditions, it seems as though Harris County is duty-bound to inform its voters of such a significant change.”

The Texas Attorney General brought the case on August 31, arguing that the interim county clerk, Chris Hollins, lacks the legal authority to conduct the planned mailing. In fact, the clerk has clear authority to implement his plan. The lawsuit also contends that the mailing will create confusion, and that it will facilitate fraud. The state doesn’t cite any evidence that the planned mailing will likely lead to fraud. And the mailing will reduce, not foster, confusion, by including voter education materials explaining who is eligible to vote by mail and how to obtain a ballot by mail if one is eligible.

“The clerk’s plan makes it easier to obtain a mail-in ballot, which is key during these challenging times for Harris County voters,” said ADL Southwest Regional Director Mark B. Toubin. “If the clerk is blocked from mailing ballot-by-mail applications to all registered voters in Harris County, many Texans may be disenfranchised.”

By sending ballot-by-mail applications to all registered voters, Harris County would provide easier access to a safe method of voting for high-risk populations for Covid-19. The county’s planned mailing would also benefit voters by encouraging voters eligible for mail ballots to submit their applications early, reducing the likelihood of surges in applications that could slow down processing, and by providing accurate information and guidance to voters about the changes in voting necessitated by the pandemic.

The Texas NAACP and ADL Southwest are represented in this case by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law and Dechert LLP.

“The Texas Attorney General claims the planned mailing will create confusion. In fact, it will reduce confusion,” said Myrna Perez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law. “He claims it will facilitate fraud, yet he hasn’t provided any evidence. Why? Because there is no evidence. The fact is, voting by mail is a safe, secure mode of casting a ballot that has long been a part of the Texas election system. Election officials across the state have been handling absentee ballots for decades.”

“We are committed to ensuring that all eligible voters are able to exercise their right to vote, to do so safely and to have confidence that their vote is counted. Having accurate information concerning eligibility to vote with a mail-in ballot and ready access to a mail-in ballot application is a critical part of voters’ exercising their fundamental right to vote,” said Diane Siegel Danoff, a partner at Dechert LLP.

Harris County has 2.4 million registered voters and is the most populous county in Texas. It is also one of the nation’s most racially diverse counties. Harris County is one of the largest voting jurisdictions in the United States.

Petition in Intervention is here.

Case background is here.