Federal Appeals Court Affirms Texas Law Mandating Handwritten Voter Signatures on Registration Forms

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has recently upheld a Texas law that mandates an original pen-on-paper signature on a voter registration application, a victory for election integrity advocates. Texas Governor Greg Abbott praised the 2-1 ruling, calling it a measure aimed at preventing cheating in elections.

The “wet ink signature” law requires individuals who submit their voter registration applications by fax or electronic means to also submit a physical copy of their application containing an original pen-on-paper signature. The majority opinion noted that the signature requirement ensures security and reliability, which electronic means cannot provide.

The lawsuit challenging the wet signature rule was brought by Vote.org, a voter advocacy group and voting technology platform. The group argued that the law unjustly burdens the right to vote and violates the First and 14th Amendments, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, the appeals court rejected these arguments, stating that Texas’s justification for the original signature advancing voter integrity is legitimate and a material requirement.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Stephen Higginson objected to the reasoning, arguing that Texas accepts electronic signatures in other areas outside of voter registration procedures. The Texas Public Policy Foundation senior attorney praised the ruling as the “right result,” emphasizing the substantial interest states have in election integrity.

The appellate court’s ruling overturned a lower court decision that blocked the signature requirement, affirming that private parties can bring lawsuits under the materiality provision of the Civil Rights Act. It also overturned a June 2022 decision on grounds that the wet signature law violated the materiality provision, as well as the First and 14th Amendments.

After the lower court ruled against the law, Republican officials, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, intervened. They argued that the web app developed by Voter.org was “incompatible” with the Texas election code because it did not allow compliance with the wet signature requirement. The district court rejected the intervenors’ arguments and denied their request, prompting an appeal to the 5th Circuit, which granted an emergency motion to pause the district court’s injunction during the appeal.

Following oral arguments in March, the 5th Circuit overturned the district court’s decision, leaving the wet signature law in effect. A similar lawsuit brought by Vote.org against Florida’s wet signature rule remains pending before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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