A federal court has ruled against Texas and one of its new election regulations, just days before early voting begins in the state.
According to CNN, this decision temporarily prohibits the state from seeking criminal penalties against officials who encourage the use of mail-in voting in the election.
The preliminary injunction is a victory for Harris County authorities, who contended that a contentious section in a new Texas election law banned them from assisting voters.
The measure, approved by the Republican-led legislature last year, has already fueled voter angst in recent weeks as they grapple with additional identification requirements.
US District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez dismissed the Texas Attorney General’s Office’s contention that preventing execution of that clause would cause confusion among voters, who had already begun to mail in ballots ahead of the state’s March 1 primary.
The judge contended that the injunction had no bearing on voting processes. It merely prohibits authorities from facing criminal and civil consequences for promoting individuals to vote by mail if they are entitled to do so, he explained. When questioned by a state attorney on Friday morning, the judge stated that it had a chilling effect. They have no idea when they will be in violation of this ambiguous law.
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His remarks came after Harris County election supervisor Isabel Longoria and volunteer registrar Cathy Morgan testified.
“When it comes to voting by mail, I have to be very careful with my words,” Longoria said. “I stop mid-sentence sometimes at town halls. … I’m tentative to overreach at the moment.”
Will Thompson of the Texas attorney general’s office said that that the idea of the provision was to limit official encouragement of mail-in voting.
“We’re not taking the position that the Legislature is opposed to voting by mail,” he said, SA Current reported.
“That doesn’t mean the Legislature wants resources to be used toward nudging people toward voting by mail.” he added.
The Harris County lawsuit is one of a slew of legal challenges to the election law. The broad opposition to the bill includes civil rights and community organizations that campaign for voters of color and voters with disabilities, claiming that the law discriminates against them.
Last year, the US Department of Justice joined those plaintiffs in a lawsuit aimed at further limitations on mail-in ballots and voter assistance. These cases are scheduled for trial later this year. The US Department of Justice is also suing the state of Texas over a provision in the statute requiring identification for mail-in voting.