Mallika Das, a U.S. citizen who was born in India, walked into a Williamson County polling place in 2014 eager to cast her ballot. Because she was not proficient in English and had found it difficult to vote in the past, Das brought her son, Saurabh, to help her. They both spoke Bengali, an Asian dialect. But when Saurabh told poll workers he was there to interpret the English ballot for his mother, the duo ran into an unexpected requirement. By law, a poll official determined, Saurabh could not serve as an interpreter for his mother because he was not registered to vote in the county. Saurabh was registered to vote in neighboring Travis County.
Das proceeded to vote without her son’s assistance but was unable to “vote properly” for all of the electoral measures because she could not “sufficiently comprehend the ballot,” according to a lawsuit she later filed.
Das died before the lawsuit was resolved, but her dilemma, laid out in court filings, is part of an ongoing legal battle over a little-noticed provision of Texas election requiring interpreters to be registered voters in the same county in which they are providing help. Ahead of the November election, a federal district judge has blocked Texas from enforcing that provision, ruling it violates the federal Voting Rights Act. Texas is appealing that ruling to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.