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Disability group threatens to sue Texas over voter registration policy

Austin American-Statesman - 2/12/2018

Feb. 12--Disability rights advocates have accused state officials of violating federal law by declining to help disabled Texans register to vote when they receive job training from the state.

Unless that policy changes, the state will be sued to force compliance, lawyers for the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities said in a warning letter sent Monday afternoon to the Texas Workforce Commission and Secretary of State Rolando Pablos.

"The state's own data indicate that at least 74,000 voting-age Texans with disabilities are not being offered voter registration services each year, and that number is likely closer to 100,000," the letter said.

According to the lawyers, the 1993 National Voter Registration Act requires state agencies that help people with disabilities to also offer help with registering to vote or updating voter-registration information.

That registration aid was offered when job training was being provided by the state Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, but when the agency was phased out in 2016, the Legislature transferred vocational training to the Texas Workforce Commission.

The workforce agency, however, decided that the registration requirement did not apply -- a change announced in a 2016 policy manual without providing "further explanation or any obvious, valid reason," the letter said.

In the year that ended Sept. 1, Texas provided job-training services to 102,852 adult Texans with disabilities, most of whom should also have received help with voter registration, according to the letter.

The letter -- written by lawyers with the Texas Civil Rights Project, Disability Rights Texas and the Austin law firm of Norton Rose Fulbright -- asked for a chance to meet with state officials to help develop a "comprehensive plan for full compliance."

If refused, the lawyers threatened to sue Texas, saying the letter was a warning of pending litigation, as required by federal law.

The workforce commission has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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(c)2018 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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