Federal Judge Blocks Texas Mail-In Ballot Voter Suppression


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.

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.

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.

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.