87th LegislatureFederalJudicialState HouseState SenateNew Texas Law to Tighten Election Residency Requirements Challenged in Federal Court

In the ongoing partisan fight over election reform, a lawsuit was filed to challenge a new law that tightens residency requirements for voter registration.
and June 22, 2021
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The Texas chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Voto Latino filed a new lawsuit in the Austin division of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas challenging Senate Bill (SB) 1111, one of the election integrity bills approved by the state legislature this year.

Signed by Gov. Greg Abbott and set to go into effect on September 1, the bill would prohibit individuals from “establish[ing] residence for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a certain election.”

It specifies that individuals “may not establish a residence at any place the person has not inhabited,” and further prohibits individuals from using prior addresses “unless the person inhabits the place at the time of designation and intends to remain.”

Under the legislation, individuals are not permitted to list their address as “a commercial post office box or similar location that does not correspond to a residence.”

An exception to the prohibition on P.O. boxes carved out in the bill is for any “voter enrolled as a full-time student who lives on campus at an institution of higher education” who uses a P.O. box located on the university’s campus.

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LULAC and Voto Latino argue that the new law “imposes vague, onerous restrictions on the voter registration process, chilling political participation and further burdening the abilities of lawful voters to cast their ballots to make their voices heard.”

The plaintiffs in the case say that SB 1111 and other election bills pushed by Republicans in the recent legislative session was a response “to the increase in voter turnout” and “increased competitiveness of Democratic candidates across the State.”

“While a burdensome omnibus bill ultimately failed at the eleventh hour,” they write, referencing SB 7, “Texas Republicans were nevertheless successful in passing a number of other suppressive laws, including SB 1111.”

Though the organizations claim that SB 1111 “serves no legitimate, let alone any compelling, governmental interest,” its author, Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), says otherwise.

“There has been a known problem in Harris County since 2018,” said Bettencourt in a press release. “There are approx. 4,800 voters registered at private UPS store P.O. boxes in Houston and there is quite frankly no way anyone can fit into a 2×3 inch post office box!”

“Senate Bill 1111 is about ensuring voters are registered to vote at a physical address where they live so elections are not unfairly impacted,” he said.

The lawsuit is only the latest development in an ongoing, highly partisan feud over election policy between Republicans and Democrats.

LULAC joined a lawsuit against Abbott last fall after the governor limited drop-off locations for mail ballots.

Throughout the legislative session, Democrats focused attacks on Republican proposals to increase uniform regulations on the electoral process throughout the Lone Star State.

SB 7, the centerpiece omnibus legislation, expired after Democrats in the Texas House walked out of the chamber near the 11:59 p.m. deadline on May 30 to pass the conference committee report for the bill.

Now Texas Democrats are positioning themselves for a showdown during at least one of the special legislative sessions Abbott has said he will call to revive the Republican-authored election reform bill.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.