Mail-in ballot envelopes at the Travis County Elections division headquarters. Charlie Pearce for The Texas Tribune
A prominent Latino civil rights group is jumping into the fight to expand Texas’ voting-by-mail eligibility, alleging the restriction that limits age eligibility for voting by mail to those 65 and older disproportionately harms Texas Latinos because they tend to be younger in age.
The League of United Latin American Citizens' national and Texas arms on Tuesday signed on to the Texas Democratic Party’s federal lawsuit against the state raising claims that the state’s absentee voting restriction is unconstitutional and violates the federal Voting Rights Act’s prohibition on discrimination against voters based on race.
“All voters will face substantial health risks by voting in person. But the consequences of voting in person will not be equally shared among Texas' demographic populations,” reads LULAC’s complaint, which was filed in federal court in San Antonio.
LULAC cited census estimates that show nearly two out of every three adults older than 65 in Texas are white, indicating the pool of voters eligible to request a ballot they can fill out at home and mail in is predominantly white.
“This means that the younger and minority voters, including many of LULAC Plaintiffs' members, are disproportionately harmed by Defendants' enforcement of the Eligibility Criteria,” they argued. “Nearly a third of Texas's Latino voters are between the ages of 18-29.”
The lawsuit is the latest front in a growing battlefield over the state’s rules for absentee voting. Texas voters, state Democrats and civil rights organizations have filed a series of lawsuits in federal and state court challenging both the state’s eligibility requirements and the mechanics of voting by mail in an effort to expand absentee voting during the pandemic. Texas’ Republican leadership is fighting the expansion, citing a need to “consistently” follow the state’s rules for mail-in ballots that are “specifically reserved for those who are legitimately ill.”
Another group of plaintiffs is also challenging the state’s age restriction, claiming they violate the 26th Amendment’s protections against voting restrictions that discriminate based on age. The LULAC lawsuit also raised questions of constitutionality based on age discrimination but focuses on Latino voters who they argue are being disproportionately harmed by the new coronavirus and would be “disproportionately disenfranchised” by the state’s age restriction on mail-in ballots if they must “risk infection by voting in person or not vote at all.”
In response to the flurry of litigation it is facing, the Texas attorney general’s office has previously said it “will continue to uphold the law and protect the integrity of the election process.”