Federal Judge Xavier Rodriguez has temporarily blocked Texas authorities from enforcing new restrictions on local officials encouraging people to vote by mail against the Harris County election administrator. Although Rodriguez’s conclusion only applies to the Harris leader, whose jurisdiction is a Democratic-leaning area and includes the city of Houston, the development certainly suggests that more comprehensive blocks to the law’s suppressive restrictions around elections could be soon emerging. Specifically, Rodriguez found that the new restriction on promoting the prospect of voting by mail likely violated the First Amendment. Fundamentally, the law appears — even if unintentionally so — purposefully designed to lower the number of votes cast in elections.
A federal judge has ruled Republican restrictions in Texas that keep local election officials from encouraging voters to request mail-in ballots likely violates the First Amendment. https://t.co/4HQlc54yvw
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 12, 2022
There are some people who might have a difficult time going or flat out can’t go to in-person polling places — and what if they miss out on opportunities to have their voices heard? Rodriguez sought to get some kind of explanation from the state’s side for the restriction during recent court proceedings, and Will Thompson from the state Attorney General’s office eventually stated that they’re “not taking the position that the Legislature is opposed to voting by mail,” but “that doesn’t mean the Legislature wants resources to be used toward nudging people toward voting by mail,” he said. Republicans have frequently singled out voting by mail as supposedly more susceptible to fraud, but there’s no legitimate evidence of any systematic fraud problem along these lines in U.S. elections. Rodriguez’s block on the state enforcing the restriction in question against Harris County is slated to stand through the rest of the proceedings in the case.
ICYMI: The FL Supreme Court rejected Gov. DeSantis' request to advise on preliminary redistricting maps, writing that the constitutionality of districts are subject to "judicial review through subsequent legal challenges" after maps are passed. https://t.co/WMpECAJW8V
— Democracy Docket (@DemocracyDocket) February 11, 2022
Troublingly, the original restriction goes directly after fundamental electoral processes — under its provisions, it’s a felony offense for local election officials to “solicit the submission” of an application for a mail-in ballot from a voter who didn’t ask for one. Rodriguez “took particular issue with the lack of a clear definition for what constitutes soliciting when talking to voters, even those 65 and older who automatically qualify to vote by mail under the state’s strict rules,” The Texas Tribune notes. The judge observed that the law “has a chilling effect,” and elections officials from Harris County backed this notion. County election administrator Isabel Longoria indicated that her team was now discussing mail-in voting with a “passive” approach, and Cathy Morgan, a volunteer (but official) deputy registrar, “offered examples of voters she no longer felt she could help navigate the vote-by-mail process,” including “an 88-year-old voter whom Morgan would typically call at the start of every year to remind her that she has to reapply for mail-in ballots,” the Tribune explains.
.@RepRaskin: "I read today about a woman who got sentenced to 6 years in jail in TN [for voting while on probation]… These fake electors were trying to deprive the ENTIRE public of its right to participate in the presidential election by essentially stealing the election."
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) February 14, 2022
The restrictions affected by Rodriguez’s decision were part of the wide-ranging elections law that Texas Republicans put in place amid the nationwide post-2020 push by Republican leaders to update the electoral process, despite the lack of meaningful evidence for the sort of fraud that would warrant these changes. Other states where Republican officials have engaged in similarly suppressive moves include Florida and Georgia; both of those states have, for instance, imposed essentially pointless new restrictions on the usage of drop boxes for mail-in ballots, limiting the number that individual counties can have and requiring stricter supervision for the boxes, among other changes across these states.
.@TheDailyBeast is starting a series on voting rights throughout the US. For our first piece, we looked at the impact of new elections laws in TX ahead of their March 1 primary, for which voting has already begun.
Spoiler alert: Things aren't going great!https://t.co/yFPmhEU6rC
— Ursula Perano (@UrsulaPerano) February 14, 2022