Amid last-minute efforts to overhaul the state’s voter identification law in light of an ongoing legal fight, the Texas Legislature gaveled out without addressing another embattled election law that’s now moving forward in federal court. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday will take up a legal challenge to an obscure provision in the Texas Election Code that requires interpreters helping someone cast a ballot to also be registered to vote in the same county in which they are providing help. That state law has been on hold since last year after a federal district judge ruled it violated the federal Voting Rights Act under which any voter who needs assistance because of visual impairments, disabilities or literacy skills can be helped in casting a ballot by the person of their choice, as long as it’s not their employer or a union leader.
“There’s nothing that’s being imposed. The state just needs to get out of the way,” said Jerry Vattamala, director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s democracy program.
AALDEF brought the lawsuit against the voting law on behalf of the Greater Houston chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans and the late Mallika Das, a Williamson County resident who was unable to get help from her son to cast her ballot in 2014.
A U.S. citizen born in India, Das had brought her son, Saurabh, to help her vote. She spoke Bengali, an Asian dialect, and her limited English proficiency had made it difficult in the past. But when Saurabh told poll workers he intended to interpret the ballot for his mother, an election official determined he didn’t meet the state’s voter registration requirements because he was registered to vote in neighboring Travis County.