Defending the Right to Vote

By Mary Braswell

The mission of the UCLA Voting Rights Project (VRP) is straightforward: creating an accessible and equitable system of voting for all Americans.

The U.S. election of 2020, just two years after VRP was launched, showed how critical this mission had become.

Housed at the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, the project has always had a strong public service ethos with an emphasis on scholarship. It seeks to train young lawyers and expert witnesses, develop new social science theories for voting rights cases, and advance the right to free and fair balloting through national and local public policy.

In the run-up to the Nov. 3 presidential election, the project’s leaders spent considerable time in the courtroom as well as the classroom, as voter suppression cases cropped up across the country.

In Texas, civil rights attorney Chad Dunn, VRP’s director of litigation, led a number of legal efforts to protect the rights of voters. Dunn defended the drive-through voting option in largely Democratic Harris County, which survived a series of Republican-led challenges.

Dunn also appeared in federal court to argue against the Texas governor’s attempt to limit ballot boxes to one per county. Professor Matt Barreto, VRP faculty director, co-authored a data-rich report showing that the rule would particularly burden disabled, elderly and minority voters, but the governor’s order was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court.

In Pennsylvania, Barreto submitted an expert report arguing against efforts by President Trump’s reelection campaign to place several restrictions on voting. These included eliminating ballot drop boxes and creating new rules for disqualifying ballots.

Some of the cases continued to be litigated well past Election Day.

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