Texas voters and the UCLA Voting Rights Project scored a legal victory with a federal judge’s dismissal of a suit to invalidate more than 127,000 ballots in the state’s most populous county. Chad Dunn, the project’s director of litigation, has been leading the legal effort to protect voting rights in Texas and was part of the legal team defending the drive-through voting option in largely Democratic Harris County. This option permitted voters to cast their ballots from their cars, similar to drive-through banking. The drive-through voting plans had been in place since July and had been approved by the Texas secretary of state. The plaintiffs, members of the state’s Republican Party, filed two motions to the Texas Supreme Court seeking to throw out the drive-through votes; both were denied. The plaintiffs then turned to the federal courts, where a judge ruled Monday that they did not have standing to sue. Hours after the decision was handed down, the Republican plaintiffs filed an appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which denied the motion early Tuesday — Election Day. “It was obvious that this method of voting was approved by the state of Texas and this late attempt to strip voters of their rights was rightfully denied,” Dunn said. “Every vote from a qualified voter should be counted.” — Sonni Waknin
The UCLA Luskin Public Policy community came together after the final presidential debate of 2020 to hear insights from an array of experts on the U.S. political landscape: Dean Gary Segura, an authority on polls and other measures of political opinion; Chair Martin Gilens, whose research focuses on political inequality; Professor Mark Peterson, who specializes in health-care policy; Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative; and Chad Dunn, director of litigation for the UCLA Voting Rights Project. During the 90-minute Zoom gathering, the speakers assessed the exchange between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, which was deemed a step up from previous matchups, then fielded questions from students and alumni. The conversation touched on the accuracy of polling, the threat of voter intimidation, the electoral pathway to victory for each candidate, and even the risk that the country might veer toward fascism. Unless the vote count is tied up amid irregularities in a single, decisive state — as it was in Bush v. Gore in the 2000 race —Segura said the chance that the election’s outcome will be seriously challenged is small. “Try not to let the demons in your head and the demons from 2016 keep you awake at night,” he advised. The conversation was part of a series of forums designed to bring policy students, alumni, faculty and staff together to share concerns, perspectives and experiences within an informed and supportive community. At the next Policy Forum, on Nov. 5, faculty experts will parse the results of the election.
UCLA’s Voting Rights Project (VRP) scored major court victories in Texas and Pennsylvania in its fight against attempts to suppress the voice of voters in this critical election year. In Texas, a federal judge blocked Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempt to limit ballot drop boxes to one per county. VRP, part of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, partnered with the League of United Latin American Citizens to sue Abbott. Chad Dunn, VRP’s director of litigation, argued the case in federal court on Oct. 8. The following day, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman struck down Abbott’s order, finding that it resulted in substantial confusion, created burdens on disabled, elderly and minority voters, and “likely violates their fundamental right to vote.” To support the case, Matt Barreto, VRP’s faculty director, co-authored an expert report with research fellow Michael Rios MPP ’20 and political science doctoral students Chelsea Jones and Marcel Roman. They documented that Abbott’s rule would force some voters to travel more than 90 miles round-trip to a downtown ballot return center, as opposed to a satellite county office within five miles. The research also found that many voters preferred using official drop-off sites rather than mailing in their ballots due to concerns about Postal Service slowdowns. In Pennsylvania, a U.S. District Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by President Trump’s reelection campaign that sought to place several restrictions on voting, including prohibiting voters from submitting ballots in drop boxes. VRP submitted an expert report documenting the importance of ballot drop boxes and the need to prevent voter intimidation. In the event these rulings are appealed, VRP is ready to file an appellate brief to defend every citizen’s right to vote.
Update: On Oct. 27, the Texas Supreme Court upheld the governor’s order to restrict the state’s counties to only one drop-off site for mail-in ballots.
The UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) and its marquee advocacy project, the UCLA Voting Rights Project, hosted an April 2 webinar on the importance of vote-by-mail programs in upcoming primaries and the November general election amid the coronavirus pandemic. Leading experts on voting rights joined the conversation, moderated by Sonja Diaz, LPPI’s founding executive director. With Election Day just months away, “it is not a matter of if, or a matter of when — the question is how do we provide the opportunity for people to vote because we must and we will,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan added, “This is not the first time Americans have voted during a crisis.” Matt Barreto, LPPI and Voting Rights Project co-founder, emphasized the importance of outreach to communities of color, and Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley assured that “voters will adapt and are looking for opportunity and expanded access.” The Voting Rights Project has released a report outlining four steps that states can begin implementing now, as well as memos on a House bill to protect voting rights and on safe voting amid the pandemic. The publications address the equitable implementation of a vote-by-mail program to encourage voter participation. As Chad Dunn, director of litigation at the Voting Rights Project, said at the close of the webinar, “It’s on all of us to double our commitment to democracy and find a way to make this work in all 50 states and territories.” — Eliza Moreno