SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Nexstar) — A provision of Texas’ elections law that penalizes and prohibits election officials and workers from encouraging voters to apply for mail-in voting was temporarily blocked by a federal judge Friday night.
A judge for the U.S. District Court in San Antonio heard challenges to this provision of Senate Bill 1 Friday morning. Parties suing — which includes Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria and the Brennan Center for Justice — argue the law violates election officials and workers’ First Amendment rights by making it a crime to encourage voters to vote by mail.
“If anything, public officials and election officials have a compelling interest to engage in such speech because voting is itself a fundamental right and voting by mail is a lawful way for millions of Texans to exercise that fundamental right,” plaintiffs argued in a complaint.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued this provision of S.B. 1 does not infringe any election officials’ freedom of speech and encouraging mail-in voting could threaten election security.
“Such solicitations would nudge voters from in-person voting to mail-in voting, decreasing election security and increasing logistical challenges,” Paxton said in court documents. “They also run the risk of convincing voters who are not qualified to vote by mail to attempt voting by mail, which potentially leads to criminal liability for voters.”
The hearing came as Texans will begin heading to the polls for early voting starting Monday for the March 1 primary elections. The Democratic and Republican ballots will include every statewide executive-branch office, congressional and state legislative offices, as well as judgeships and the State Board of Education districts.
At the end of the hearing, Judge Xavier Rodriguez said he would order to either temporarily block this provision of S.B. 1 or keep it in place by 11:59 p.m. on Friday. He ruled to temporarily block the provision.