-By Lise Olsen
February 13, 2012- The nonprofit Voting for America filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging Texas voter rolls have been actively suppressed by excessive restrictions on volunteers who conduct registration drives, aggressive purges of county voter rolls and poll workers who improperly requested identification from voters.
"A developing body of state practices and provisions targeted at voter registration activities is endangering the rights of many Texas voters," the lawsuit alleges.
The group, affiliated with the Washington D.C.-based Project Vote, runs nonpartisan voter registration drives nationwide and has previously mounted legal challenges to state voter registration procedures in Missouri, Ohio, Indiana and New Mexico, among other states.
The latest lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Texas courts names Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade and takes aim at the state's new mandatory training for all volunteer registrars – in which almost anyone who handles a voter's application as part of a registration drive has to complete training before he or she can be "deputized" to operate in any Texas county. A spokesman for Andrade refused comment.
Population growth in Texas exceeds most other states, while many voter registration rolls throughout the state remain stagnant. As of January, 12.9 million Texans had registered to vote -up just 2 percent from January 2008.
"What we think is going on here is a scheme to limit access to the right to vote," said Chad Dunn, a Houston attorney who is one of three attorneys representing Voting for America in the federal case.
In an August 2011 report, Washington D.C.-based Judicial Watch criticized Voting for America and affiliated groups as fronts for the scandal-ridden ACORN grass-roots organizations and alleged that its leaders have partisan motivations and clear ties to President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and U.S. Department of Justice officials.
But Dunn, who represents the Democratic Party in separate ongoing redistricting litigation, said the Texas case is nonpartisan and has been filed on behalf of all voters.
"Whether someone is registering as a Republican or any other party, they shouldn't get hassled when they want to register to vote," he said.
The lawsuit describes two Galveston County voters who contend they were discouraged from voting by flawed policies and names Galveston County Tax Assessor Cheryl Johnson.
One resident, who lives on a boat in Clear Lake, and a Galveston Island resident both said their voting statuses were improperly suspended and that they also were improperly asked to produce photo identification at the polls in November 2011 elections, although the state's voter ID law had not yet taken effect.
The case also knocks Harris County voter officials for failing to disclose information on why so many new voters' applications have been rejected in recent years.
Tax Assessor Collector Don Sumners said Monday he would not comment.