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Asked to propose a fix to voting rights violation, Texas offers few answers

Following a ruling last month that Texas was violating a law designed to ease the voter registration process, a federal judge ordered the state to submit a plan to fix it. Texas' response offered few specifics.

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Told it was breaking the law and asked to propose a fix, Texas seems to have mostly declined in a new filing the state’s legal adversaries have called “bad faith foot-dragging.”

Following a ruling last month that Texas was violating a federal law designed to ease the voter registration process, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ordered both the state and the voting rights advocacy group that sued Texas to submit detailed plans for fixing the violation. The Texas Civil Rights Project submitted its plan Thursday afternoon. About three hours later, Texas responded with a document criticizing that group’s proposal as overly broad and once again disputing the judge’s ruling. It did not present a clear, specific solution of its own.

Garcia ruled in April that Texas was violating a federal law often called the Motor Voter Act by failing to allow Texas drivers to register to vote online while they update their license information. Texans can already register in person at Department of Public Safety offices, but not when they renew their licenses online.

That disparate treatment was at the heart of the lawsuit filed against the state in 2016 by the Texas Civil Rights Project on behalf of several Texas voters who, the group argues, are among the thousands of voters disenfranchised by Texas’ current system.

Attorneys for the state argued this week — again — that the state was not violating the law and that the voters who sued them had no standing to do so in the first place. They also objected strenuously to the advocacy group’s fix, which proposed giving the state 45 days to begin allowing Texas drivers to register online while updating their license information and forcing Texas to create a “broad-based public education plan” to advertise the new avenue for voter registration.

“It is one thing to issue a ‘simple injunction’ ordering a state official to comply with the [the Motor Voter Act], it is another to micromanage the details of that compliance,” attorneys for the state wrote. “[The law] does not give federal courts carte blanche to order the State to do anything they think may be beneficial.”

Texas emphasized that it doesn’t believe the court should order any remedy. But attorneys for the state did offer some guidelines as to how that fix should be ordered. Any solution, the state said, “must be narrowly tailored” to the problem at hand and show what other courts have described as “adequate sensitivity to the principles of federalism.”

Mimi Marziani, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said Friday that the state’s objections are “hogwash.”

“They’re continuing to take the position that they didn’t do anything wrong, but that’s not where we are in this lawsuit. The court has found that they did something wrong,” Marziani said.

Texas pledged weeks ago to appeal the ruling, but Marziani said the state cannot appeal to the New Orleans-based U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals until Garcia has issued a judgment in this case.

Advocates had hoped that a ruling in this case could open the door to a broader system of online voter registration in Texas. If the judge orders Texas to allow individuals to register to vote while updating their license information online — as the Texas Civil Rights Project has proposed — that system could be expanded to include the rest of the state, advocates argued.

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