A divided panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a trio of voting rights lawsuits because they were brought against the wrong state agency.

Broadly, the three suits sought:

  • To restore single-punch, straight-party voting in the general election (Ruling)
  • To strike down a series of requirements for mail ballots, including a requirement that voters pay postage to return their ballots (Ruling); and
  • To strike down stricter signature-matching requirements on mail ballots (Ruling).

“Because the Secretary of State does not enforce the law [being challenged] …, Plaintiffs’ constitutional claims are barred by sovereign immunity,” wrote Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan for the majority in the case regarding straight-party voting. Local election officials are responsible for enforcing the challenged provisions of statute, he concluded.

None of the three rulings dealt with the merits of issues raised by the plaintiffs.

In his dissent, Circuit Judge Patrick Higginbotham argued the majority’s “overly narrow readings of the state officer’s duty to enforce Texas’s election laws” led to an incorrect conclusion regarding sovereign immunity. “The Texas Secretary of State is the ‘chief election officer of the state’ and is directly instructed by statute to ‘obtain and maintain uniformity in the application, operation and interpretation” of the state’s election laws.

Circuit Judge Don Willett, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, sided with Duncan.

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