Fifth Circuit Agrees with U.S. District Court that Texas Can’t Limit Interpreters to Registered Voters of the Same County

On August 16, the Fifth Circuit issued an 18-page opinion in Organization for Chinese Americans v State of Texas, 16-51126.  The decision agrees with the U.S. District Court that a Texas law, requiring interpreters at the polls to be registered voters of that county, violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

The opinion is by Judge Patrick Higginbotham (a Reagan appointee), and is also signed by James Graves and Stephen Higginson, Obama appointees.  The Fifth Circuit did say that the U.S. District Court’s injunction was broader than it needed to be, and sent it back to have it re-written.  The U.S. District Court had believed that Texas won’t permit interpreters if a polling place official knows the particular foreign language and can interpret instead, but the Fifth Circuit said that is not a correct interpretation of Texas law, and furthermore that issue was not part of this lawsuit.

The individual voter who brought the case in the beginning, and who wanted her 16-year-old grandson to interpret for her, had died before the case was decided in U.S. District Court.  Texas argued that therefore the case is moot, but the U.S. District Court and the Fifth Circuit agreed that the co-plaintiff Organization for Chinese Americans also has standing.


Fifth Circuit Agrees with U.S. District Court that Texas Can’t Limit Interpreters to Registered Voters of the Same County — 3 Comments

  1. Various advanced foreign regimes have party logos and even pictures of candidates on ballots for voters with language problems.

    What happened in the bad olde days when the USA had LOTS of non-English voter folks — circa 1890-1920 ???

  2. The complaint says that Mallika Das’s son, Saurabh Das was not permitted to interpret for her, because he was registered to vote in Travis County, while she was attempting to vote in neighboring Williamson County. Her obituary only mentions a husband, son, and daughter. Do you have a source for the 16-year old grandson?

    Texas has two provisions regarding assistance to someone who does not understand a ballot. The provision in question, beginning at TEC 61.031 appears to be more oriented to communication between a poll worker and a voter. In particular, it provides that a poll worker may use the language known by the voter.

    It also says that if another poll worker, or poll watcher wants a translation into English, that the poll worker shall provide it. It is possible that the original intent was to provide interpreters as election officials, though the statute permits someone to bring their own interpreter.

    There is another provision, TEC 64.031, that permits someone to provide assistance if a voter is unable to read or mark a ballot due to a visual or physical ability, or inability to read the language the ballot is in. There is no restriction on who may assist, other than they can not be an employer, or union official. Had Ms. Das’ son said he was there to assist his mother read the ballot he would have been permitted to do so.

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