Elections 2022JudicialStatewide NewsFifth Circuit Tosses Challenge to Texas Election Law Preventing Voter Registrations at PO Boxes

The ruling didn't broach the merits of the case, but found that the plaintiffs lacked the necessary prerequisites to challenge the law.
October 27, 2022
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a previous ruling that invalidated a Texas election law requiring county registrars to verify that a voter’s address is tied to a residence and not a post office box.

Back in August, a district court judge ruled in favor of the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Voto Latino’s challenge to the law.

Under Senate Bill (SB) 1111’s provisions, verification of a voter’s address by one of a number of different methods — state identification card, license to carry, home appraisal document, utility bill or a motor vehicle registration document — is required of registrars if they have reason to suspect a registration address doesn’t match a residence.

The stated purpose of the bill was to ensure that voters vote where they live. Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), the bill author, said in a statement after the suit was tossed, “The whole purpose of this bill was to clean up voter rolls in counties because absolutely nobody’s residential address is in a 2-3 inch P.O. box!”

“It’s preposterous that anyone would try to claim otherwise! SB 1111 is a common-sense Election Integrity bill that confirms people are registered to vote where they physically reside.”

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In their challenge, the activist groups alleged this law “unconstitutionally burdens the right to vote.” LULAC contended in its original petition that the law would especially inhibit college students from voting due to their extra reliance on post office boxes to receive mail while living in dorms.

But SB 1111 writes, explicitly, “[A] voter enrolled as a full-time student who lives on campus at an institution of higher education may use the address of a post office box located on the campus of the institution or in a dormitory owned or operated by the institution to confirm the voter ’s residence.”

“I didn’t know what the heck the district judge was doing because we put that college student provision in there,” Bettencourt told The Texan about the previous ruling in which the judge sided with LULAC.

This week, the Fifth Circuit dismissed the plaintiff’s claims after finding the activist groups lacked standing to challenge the law. Whereas the lower court found “organizational standing” on the grounds that “the new laws caused them to divert resources from other projects and also chilled their ability to advise and register voters,” the appeals court found this contention unpersuasive.

The court stated that the plaintiffs “made vague assertions that they diverted resources in response to ‘S.B. 1111 and all the other laws,’ both inside and outside Texas” and that “there is no credible threat [the plaintiffs] will be prosecuted” under the law by providing voters registration advice, so long as they do not knowingly aid the voter in committing fraud.

But due to finding a lack of standing, the appeals court did not address the merits of the challenge to SB 1111, namely the plaintiffs’ contention that it “unconstitutionally burdens” voting.

This appeal came after the State of Texas, through the Office of the Attorney General, intervened because the state, which passed the law in question, was not named as a defendant. Initially, the LULAC case named only voter registrars in six Democratic counties — Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Harris, Hidalgo, and Travis — none of which defended in court the law they were being sued over. It was a deft maneuver that did not play out as the plaintiffs had hoped.

“This was a novel concept,” Bettencourt said of the strategy, “and it’s important that they lost it.”

“Were it not for the folks over at the attorney general’s office, this lawsuit would’ve just been signed on the dotted line. SB 1111 is an important change for voter integrity.

After the election, the process SB 1111 proscribes will begin as registrars will be tasked with matching voter files to physical residences. And another bill passed last year, SB 1113, sets forth a financial penalty for county registrar’s that fail to “timely perform” this law’s duty charged to them.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Sen. Bettencourt.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.