Voting rights advocates are poised to propose changes to help voters who face language barriers at the polls after a federal judge ruled recently that a provision of Texas law violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The case began when a Williamson County voter of Indian descent, Mallika Das, was barred from letting her son serve as an interpreter at the polls during the fall 2014 election because state law required interpreters be registered in the same county as the voter. Das’s son was registered in neighboring Travis County. District Court Judge Robert Pitman on Friday tossed out that requirement, writing in an order that those provisions of state law “restrict voter choice in a manner inconsistent with the Federal Voting Rights Act.” The law states that voters facing language barriers should largely be able to choose who helps them at the polls.
Pitman called for the plaintiffs in the case, which was brought in part by the advocacy group Organization of Chinese Americans-Greater Houston, to propose additional remedies in the coming days, which could include new instructions for election workers.
“Obviously the present election is a huge deal and we want to make sure all the provisions of the Voting Rights Act are complied with,” said Jerry Vattamala, director of the Democracy Program at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and one of the attorneys on the case.
Pitman’s decision made few headlines compared to other voting rights cases in Texas, including the high-profile battle over the state’s controversial voter identification law. State officials announced Tuesday they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after a judge ruled this month that the voter ID law must be changed because it discriminates against minorities. In contrast to the discourse over the voter ID law, it’s not clear there are many political stakes over the law Pitman tossed out Friday.