The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), filed the lawsuit Friday afternoon on behalf of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP). MALDEF attorneys argue that since Monday, October 24, the first day of early voting, Bexar officials have given out false information about Texas' voter ID rules in polling places across the county and on a recorded message to voters on the elections website.
The faulty information, MALDEF attorneys say, does not reflect the current court-ordered voter ID rules and could discourage eligible voters from casting their ballots. The current rule lets any Bexar County resident vote, even if they don't have one of seven state-issued photo IDs. Voters can sign a sworn statement at the polls confirming they don't have an ID, and show another document that proves their residency (like a bank statement).
In previous elections, Texas residents were required to show a photo ID before voting. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos tweaked the requirements for the November 8 election after ruling that the state's original voter ID rules intentionally discriminated against black and brown voters. Ramos had demanded the state spend at least $2.5 million to swiftly educate voters on the new rules. Texas officials, however, put that money toward posters and pamphlets with misleading information that made these rules appear unchanged.
According to the lawsuit, Bexar County has failed to closely follow Ramos' orders. MALDEF attorneys have demanded the county replace the incorrect information immediately.
After SVREP staffers heard about the incorrect posters and documents at Bexar polling places on Monday, they alerted the county's elections
administrator, Jacque Callanen. Callanen held a press conference on Tuesday, insisting that all incorrect signs had been taken down.
But on Thursday, the attorneys allege, nine voting locations still displayed posters displaying invalid voter ID laws and had elections staffers giving false ID information.
"Faced with a long line to enter the polling place, a voter without photo identification who hears from a poll worker walking the line that photo ID is required is at risk of leaving the polling place under the impression that she will not be allowed to vote," the lawsuit reads.
Citing Judge Ramos' ruling against the state's strict voter ID law, the attorneys write "it is certain that the voters deterred in Bexar County will be disproportionately minority."
In a statement Friday afternoon, the county elections office "has responded to
all issues brought to its attention and corrected any issues that may have
existed at the polling places when early voting began." The office also contested the lawsuit's characterization of the problem, adding, "These issues were not significant and did not result in a single voter being disallowed to vote. In fact, there has been record voting this election cycle." Still, elections officials say they've agreed to a temporary restraining order that forces the county to swap illegal signs with the correct and approved ones, change a recorded telephone message to voters, and notify poll workers they can't display outdated voting rules, among other things – all, the county says, "to avoid a drawn out hearing on the allegations made by Southwest Voter Registration Education Project."
Early voters only have 43 locations to chose from. Come November 8, 700 locations will turn into polling places. MALDEF attorneys say they're worried that the incorrect posters given to early voting locations may be the same handed out to the hundreds of other locations that will open on election day.
"As turnout in Bexar County rises, voters are met with illegal voter ID signs," said Nina Perales, MALDEF vice president of litigation, in a press release. "We will not sit idly by while Bexar County enforces an invalid and discriminatory voter ID law."