Federal judge blocks Texas law barring election officials from promoting mail-in voting

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Nexstar) — A provision of Texas Election Law that penalizes and prohibits election officials and workers from encouraging voters to request mail-in voting was temporarily blocked by a federal judge Friday night.

A U.S. District Court judge in San Antonio heard challenges to that provision of Senate Bill 1 on Friday morning. The suing parties — including Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria and the Brennan Center for Justice — argue that the law violates the rights of election officials and workers under the First Amendment by criminalizing the fact encourage voters to vote by mail.

“If anything, public officials and election officials have a compelling interest in making such a rhetoric, because voting itself is a basic right and mail-in voting is a legal means for millions of Texans to exercise this fundamental right,” the plaintiffs argued in a lawsuit.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued that this provision of SB 1 does not infringe on election officials’ freedom of speech and that encouraging mail-in voting could threaten election security.

“Such solicitations would shift voters from voting in person to voting by mail, diminishing 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 to vote by mail, which could lead to criminal liability for voters.”

The hearing came as Texans begin heading to the polls for early voting beginning Monday for the March 1 primary election. The Democratic and Republican ballots will include all state executive offices, congressional and state legislative offices, and state board of education judges and districts.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Xavier Rodriguez indicated that he would order either to temporarily block this provision of SB 1, or to keep it in place by 11:59 p.m. Friday. He decided to temporarily block the provision.

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