More Shenanigans from Texas in Voter ID Case: Threats to Investigate Voters Who Sign Affidavits

From a newly filed motion from the private plaintiffs, apart from the DOJ filing, and now to be heard at a Sept. 19 hearing:

Private Plaintiffs’1 Motion for Further Relief to Enforce Interim Remedial Order is triggered by a series of statements attributed to Texas officials stating or insinuating that they will conduct criminal investigations of “everyone” who executes the Declaration of Reasonable Impediment, which this Court ordered as part of its interim relief. Those statements are contrar yto the terms of this Court’s Interim Remedial Order, and are intimidating to the very persons that the Order is intended to protect.

On August 26, in a news article appearing in Houston Press, Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart was directly quoted or paraphrased as follows:

Stanart says he will investigate everyone who signs that form to assure they are not lying. Whether anything happens, that’s up to the [Harris County District Attorney’s Office]. But after the votes are counted and the election ends, Stanart said his office will be checking to see whether a person who signed the sworn statement has a Texas Department of Public Safety-issued ID through the DPS database.” Meagan Flynn, Harris County Clerk Will Vet Voters Who Claim to Lack Photo ID, HOUSTON PRESS, Aug. 26, 2016 (attached hereto as Exhibit A) (emphasis added).3 On August 30,

Private Plaintiffs wrote to the State, asking the State to confirm (1) whether Stanart made these remarks, and, (2) irrespective of whether he did, take action to cure the damaging effects of the publication of such statements. Letter from Counsel for the Private Plaintiffs to Angela Colmenero and Matthew Frederick (Aug. 30, 2016) (attached hereto as Exhibit C). Private Plaintiffs expressed concern that these statements will intimidate voters and chill participation in the November election by dissuading voters—who may no longer have once-issued SB 14 ID, or may have forgotten that they have SB 14 ID—from participating in the election or, worse yet, subjecting them to potential prosecution if they execute a Declaration of Reasonable Impediment in good faith. Despite Private Plaintiffs’ attempt to meet-and-confer before presenting this important matter to the Court, Defendants have indicated that they plan to do nothing about and, in effect, condone these remarks. Indeed, Defendants responded to Private Plaintiffs on September 2, stating that Mr. Stanart’s “statements provide no reason to believe that the Harris County clerk ‘will engage in a wholesale investigation of every voter who signs a Reasonable Impediment [Declaration].’” Letter from Angela Colmenero to Ezra Rosenberg (Sept. 2, 2016), at 2 (quoting Private Plaintiffs’ August 30 letter) (attached hereto as Exhibit D). Private Plaintiffs do not understand why the Harris County Clerk’s quoted statement that he will investigate “everyone who signs that form” provides “no reason” to believe he will do just that.

Moreover, Defendants flatly refused to inquire whether Mr. Stanart made these remarks, and took the troubling position that they have no responsibility for the actions of Texas county and local election officials, including Mr. Stanart—the chief election officer of the largest county in the state, with more than 2 million voters—even when they are implementing this Court’s Interim Remedial Order: “Mr. Stanart is the Harris County Clerk; he is not an employee or agent of any of the named State Defendants in this case. The State Defendants do not have any control over Mr. Stanart or his dealings with the press.” Id. at 3. Finally, Defendants’ September 2 response indicated that they find no problem with Mr. Stanart’s quoted statements and asserted that they have no responsibility to cure any adverse effects of the publicity given to those statements. Id. Defendants’ position—disclaiming the clear intimidating effect of Mr. Stanart’s remarks and any responsibility for the statements or actions of election officials implementing the Court’s order—is a serious confirmation that this Court’s Interim Remedial Order and, indeed, any meaningful remedy resulting from the decision of the Court of Appeals, are at risk in this upcoming election. This is increasingly clear from Defendants’ refusal to correct their own misrepresentations in state-produced materials, even after Plaintiffs have brought those misrepresentations to their attention. See Motion to Enforce Interim Remedial Order by the United States (Doc. 924) (documenting Plaintiffs’ efforts since August 12 to show Defendants that, per the interim remedy order, the standard for signing a Declaration of Reasonable Impediment is if a voter does not possess and cannot reasonably obtain a SB 14 ID). Common sense dictates that, under even normal circumstances, statements by an official that authorities will “investigate everyone” who executes a Declaration of Reasonable Impediment, and threatens to refer them to the District Attorney is self-evidently intimidating. But these are not normal circumstances. The Interim Remedial Order was issued for the express purpose of protecting voters who are the victims of the discriminatory effect of SB 14, who are largely poor and Black and Hispanic Texans. Indeed, it was expressly designed to facilitate their ability to vote, not scare them from coming to the polls. But, as stated in the affidavits of those whose mission is to get out the vote, the publicized statements of Attorney General Paxton and Mr. Stanart are having the opposite effect

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