Voting Rights Threatened by Waller County District Attorney

Students Seek Injunction Against District Attorney

In response to ongoing voter intimidation efforts from the district attorney of Waller County, Texas, students and civil rights organizations at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) filed a lawsuit and preliminary injunction to ensure that PVAMU students will be able to freely exercise their fundamental right to vote. Students at the historically black college in Waller County are seeking to participate in the March 9, 2004 primary election and all future elections free from the threat of prosecution.

Students at PVAMU have been plagued by the actions of Waller County District Attorney Oliver S. Kitzman over the past months. Kitzman has threatened students at PVAMU with felony prosecution for “illegal voting” if they choose to cast a ballot on election day in Waller County. The PVAMU community is seeking an injunction today in order to peacefully reaffirm their voting rights as Texas residents. The students are represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, along with People For the American Way Foundation, the NAACP and the ACLU of Texas.

On November 10, 2003, Kitzman wrote a letter to the editor of the Waller Times suggesting that students at Prairie View A&M University would be subject to prosecution for voting as residents of Waller County. In fact, the law requires the government to accept a citizens residency in good faith unless the government has a reason to suspect otherwise.

District Attorney Kitzman is the only such officeholder in the state of Texas who has publicly embraced this erroneous interpretation of the domicile law. He has continued to hold this position, despite contrary opinions from the Texas Secretary of State and Attorney General, as well as the Waller County Elections Administrator, and the United States Department of Justice.

The suit filed today contends that the district attorney’s actions intimidate students at the university and prevent them from taking part in the electoral process. In the 1970s, the Waller County registrar of voters attempted to use a similar distortion of the rules pertaining to domiciles to disenfranchise students at PVAMU, whose student population is 90% African American. Eventually, the Supreme Court ordered the registrar to respect student voter registration. Today’s suit asks the court to include the district attorney’s office under the same order.

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