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Latest Democratic suit challenges Texas 'wet signature' rule

Texas Democrats and the party's national campaign arms filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging a state rule that prohibits electronic signatures on voter registration forms.

In 2018, the rule led county election officials (acting on orders from the Republican secretary of state at the time, Rolando Pablos) to reject more than 2,400 voter forms just days before the registration deadline — in violation of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, the lawsuit contends.

The suit is the latest in a wave of litigation brought by Democrats hoping the courts will ease access to the ballot box this November, in an array of states where the presidential contest could be competitive or where Republicans are pushing more restrictions on voting.

The forms at issue in Texas were distributed to county officials by, a nonpartisan voter registration platform that allows citizens to fill out and sign an application by uploading a photographic image of their signature. The website later faxed and mailed the electronically signed applications to county election officials, who were told five days before the deadline to discard them.

The so-called "wet signature rule" violates federal voting rights protections by "selectively targeting and burdening private organizations' efforts to increase voter turnout and imposing an arbitrary barrier to registration," the lawsuit argues.

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The rule is arbitrary, according to the plaintiffs, because the state accepts electronic signatures on other official documents, including voter registration forms submitted through the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Texas is one of 13 states that doesn't provide access to online voter registration.

The filing is the third voting rights lawsuit filed against Texas in the past four months by attorneys for the Texas Democratic Party, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In October, the coalition sued the state over a new law that effectively ended the use of mobile voting sites during early voting. A month later, the group filed a second lawsuit targeting a long-standing law that required the name of candidates who belonged to the same political party as the governor to be listed first on general election ballots.

Perkins Coie, the law firm representing the plaintiffs in the latest case, has filed 14 voting rights lawsuits in a dozen states over the past three months as part of a nationwide strategy to increase voter turnout this fall.

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