And more adjustments to election law in Texas.
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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.
The requirement will not be in effect during the upcoming election. The Secretary of State’s office has updated poll worker training material to be consistent with the ruling, said spokeswoman Alicia Pierce. And voter education groups that focus on language-minority voters like Asian Texans are working to ensure that voters get the word they can bring just about anyone, including their minor children, to help them vote.
But the case has highlighted a provision of Texas election law that appears to be at odds with federal protections for voters unable to read or write in English. At the heart of the case is whether voters are expected to know the difference between an “interpreter” and an “assistor” in the eyes of Texas election law.
The federal Voting Rights Act requires that any voter who requires assistance because of visual impairments, disabilities or literacy skills can be helped in casting a ballot by the person of their choice, as long as it’s not their employer or a union leader.