Asian Americans sue Texas for denial of language assistance under the Voting Rights Act

Thursday, Aug 6, 2015

Today, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) sued the State of Texas, the Williamson County Elections Department, and the city of Round Rock for denying Asian American voters with limited English proficiency the right to an assistor of their choice, in violation of Section 208 of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA). Section 208 provides that voters may choose anyone to assist them at the poll site, except their employer or union representative.

Jerry Vattamala, Director of AALDEF's Democracy Program, said: "Asian Americans have had to overcome many barriers to exercise their right to vote, especially due to the lack of language assistance. Texas must comply with all provisions of the Voting Rights Act and allow voters to secure assistance from persons of their choice."

Asian American voters benefit from section 208 because most jurisdictions in Texas are not required to provide Asian language interpreters. This provision allows limited English proficient (LEP) voters to be assisted by their friends or family members inside the voting booth.  

AALDEF's lawsuit challenges a provision of the Texas Election Code that requires interpreters to be registered to vote in the same county as the voter who needs assistance. This state requirement unduly restricts the range of individuals who are permitted to provide language assistance under Section 208. 

Mallika Das, one of the plaintiffs, is a registered voter who lives in Williamson County, Texas. She brought her son, Saurabh Das, to assist her during the early voting period for the Midterm Elections on October 31, 2014. Poll workers did not allow Saurabh to assist his mother because he was registered to vote in neighboring Travis County. As a result, Mrs. Das had to vote without language assistance from the person she had designated. 

On behalf of the organizational plaintiff, OCA - Greater Houston president Cecil Fong said, "Section 208 is vitally important for the LEP Asian American community in Texas. The state law conflicts with the VRA and prevents qualified voters from receiving the assistance that they are guaranteed under federal law."

The complaint seeks to enjoin Texas from continuing to attach unlawful requirements to interpreters, declare the Texas state law invalid, and ensure that Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act is properly enforced.

Fish & Richardson P.C., is pro bono counsel in this lawsuit. "Ensuring that all citizens have not only the right, but also the practical ability, to exercise their voting franchise helps our nation more fully realize the promise of our democratic system," said Lawrence Kolodney, Chair of Fish's Pro Bono Program. "Fish is proud to serve as co-counsel with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund on this important and timely issue."

A copy of the complaint can be downloaded here.

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For additional information, contact:  
Jerry Vattamala, Democracy Program Director
212.966.5932 x209
jvattamala@aaldef.org