Order Prohibits Attorney General, District Attorneys in Three Counties from Penalizing Election Officials and Public Officials Who Encourage Eligible Voters to Vote by Mail
Relief Comes in Time for Texas’s February 18 Deadline to Apply to Vote by Mail in March 1 Primary
Tonight a U.S. district court judge granted a preliminary injunction against the part of Texas’s S.B. 1 making it a crime for election officials and election workers to encourage Texans to apply to vote by mail. Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas issued the order in response to the plaintiffs’ motion in Longoria v. Paxton. It prohibits the district attorneys in three counties – Harris, Travis, and Williamson – from prosecuting plaintiffs under the challenged law. It also prohibits the Texas attorney general and the same district attorneys from seeking civil penalties. In an opinion accompanying the order, Judge Rodriguez stated that this part of S.B. 1 likely violates the First Amendment.
The following are reactions from the plaintiffs and their attorneys.
Isabel Longoria, plaintiff, Harris County Election Administrator:
“The judge’s order is a huge relief. Now I can go back to doing an important part of my job. The voters in Harris County deserve to know about all of their options, including voting by mail for those who are eligible, and I’m glad to be able to serve them in full once again.”
Cathy Morgan, plaintiff, volunteer deputy registrar in Travis and Williamson Counties:
“I decided to volunteer as a registrar to help my fellow Texans register to vote. But then S.B. 1 turned part of what I do into a crime. I’m thrilled that the judge’s order lifts that burden and lets me resume my duties in full.”
Sean Morales-Doyle, Acting Director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law:
“The preliminary injunction granted today removes the muzzle from Texas election officials and workers. Now they can give Texans all of the information they need about their voting options. That’s how a democracy is supposed to work.”
Christian Menefee, County Attorney, Harris County, Texas:
“The judge’s order today is critical for those Texans who depend on mail voting in order to cast a ballot. Democracy must remain open to all eligible voters, regardless of age or disability.”
Liz Ryan, Partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP:
“S.B. 1 has always been a one-sided restriction on free speech – Texas election officials and workers are penalized for encouraging eligible voters to vote by mail while they face no penalty for discouraging eligible voters from voting by mail. That is unconstitutional. Thankfully, after today’s order, election officials will be able to speak freely and encourage people who want to vote by mail to do so.”
Isabel Longoria, the highest-ranking election official in Harris County, and Cathy Morgan, a volunteer deputy registrar in Travis and Williamson Counties, filed suit in December against S.B. 1. They argued that the prohibition on encouraging voters to apply to vote by mail violates their First Amendment rights and prevents them from performing critical work duties.
S.B. 1 – which contains multiple voting restrictions – made it a crime for election officials and other public officials to “solicit mail ballot applications” from voters, whether or not those voters are eligible under state law to do so.
Under Texas law voters are eligible to vote 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 held in jail.
Longoria is represented by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Harris County Attorney’s Office, and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. Morgan is represented by the Brennan Center for Justice, and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.
Documents and more information about Longoria v. Paxton are available here.