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Press Release

Brennan Center Files for Preliminary Injunction Against Texas’s S.B. 1 for Censoring Election Officials on Mail Voting

Provision in S.B. 1 forbids election officials from encouraging voters to apply for mail ballots; punishment is six months in jail, minimum, and a fine of up to $10,000

December 28, 2021
Contact: Rebecca Autrey, Media Contact, rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu, 202-753-5904

Contact:
Bren­nan Center for Justice: Rebecca Autrey, rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu, 202–753–5904
Harris County Elec­tion Admin­is­trat­or’s Office: Leah Shah, leah.shah@­vote.hctx.net, 512–810–5294
Harris County Attor­ney’s Office: Stephanie Palmer, stephanie.palmer­@­cao.hctx.net, 832–690–0842

Today in U.S. District Court for the West­ern District of Texas, the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU Law, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, and the Harris County Attor­ney’s Office moved for a prelim­in­ary injunc­tion in Longoria v. Paxton, their chal­lenge to the provi­sion in Texas’s restrict­ive voting law (S.B. 1) that makes it a crime for elec­tion offi­cials and elec­tion work­ers to encour­age voters to vote by mail, whether or not those voters are eligible under Texas law to do so. The Bren­nan Center, Weil, and the Harris County Attor­ney’s Office are seek­ing the injunc­tion on behalf of Isabel Longoria, the Elec­tion Admin­is­trator for Harris County, Texas; and the Bren­nan Center and Weil are also repres­ent­ing Cathy Morgan, a volun­teer elec­tion worker in Texas.

The motion filed today requests a prelim­in­ary injunc­tion against the S.B. 1 provi­sion no later than Febru­ary 14, 2022. Texas has a primary elec­tion on March 1, 2022. To vote by mail in the primary, Texas voters must request mail ballot applic­a­tions between Janu­ary 1, 2022, and Febru­ary 18, 2022.

“S.B. 1 makes it a crime for me to do a crit­ical part of my job, and it hurts the most vulner­able voters,” said Isabel Longoria, Harris County Elec­tion Admin­is­trator. “As the highest-rank­ing elec­tion offi­cial in Harris County, I’m respons­ible for enabling the county’s millions of voters to exer­cise their right to cast a lawful ballot, many of whom face obstacles to voting in person due to illness, disab­il­ity, or age. S.B. 1 subjects me to crim­inal prosec­u­tion for encour­aging eligible voters to vote by mail so they may parti­cip­ate in our demo­cracy –an option they have under Texas law.”

Under S.B. 1, Longoria, Morgan, and other elec­tion offi­cials and elec­tion work­ers across Texas can be imprisoned for a minimum of six months and fined up to $10,000 if they encour­age a voter to apply for a mail ballot applic­a­tion. As the motion filed today argues, this provi­sion viol­ates the First Amend­ment and under­mines elec­tion offi­cials’ and elec­tion work­ers’ abil­ity to perform their duties.

“The right to free speech and the right to vote are vital to demo­cracy, and S.B. 1 takes direct aim at both,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of the Voting Rights and Elec­tions Program at the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU Law. “Texas should be encour­aging elec­tion offi­cials to provide voters all the inform­a­tion they need to parti­cip­ate in elec­tions. Instead, the legis­lature and the Governor have made it a crime to do so.”

Texas law allows voting by mail in certain circum­stances, includ­ing when a voter is 65 years old or older, sick, or disabled, out of the coun­try on elec­tion day, or confined in jail.

“This law was created to combat alleged voter fraud that we know does not exist, and instead hinders the abil­ity to prop­erly encour­age seni­ors and voters with disab­il­it­ies to exer­cise their right to vote by mail,” said Chris­tian Mene­fee, the County Attor­ney for Harris County, Texas. “This anti-soli­cit­a­tion provi­sion of SB 1 not only makes it harder for these folks vote, but it crim­in­al­izes the consti­tu­tion­ally protec­ted free speech of the Harris County Elec­tions Admin­is­trator and viol­ates the First Amend­ment.”

“S.B. 1 makes it a crime for public offi­cials or elec­tion offi­cials to encour­age voters to request a mail ballot applic­a­tion, even if the person would be eligible to vote by mail. By contrast, under Texas law, it is not a crime for a public offi­cial or elec­tion offi­cial to discour­age eligible voters to vote by mail,” said Liz Ryan, part­ner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. “There is no valid justi­fic­a­tion for such a one-sided restric­tion on speech.”

S.B. 1 went into effect on Decem­ber 2, 2021. It is an omni­bus law, contain­ing the provi­sion chal­lenged in Longoria v. Paxton as well as restric­tions on other aspects of voting and elec­tions. The law has drawn multiple lawsuits in addi­tion to Longoria v. Paxton. The Depart­ment of Justice has chal­lenged S.B. 1 and, many other entit­ies, includ­ing the Bren­nan Center (in LUPE v. Abbott), have also filed suit against vari­ous parts of the law.

The motion for a prelim­in­ary injunc­tion in Longoria v. Paxton is here.

The complaint, and more back­ground on Longoria v Paxton, is here.