Federal judge blocks enforcement of parts of new Texas election integrity bill

A federal judge in Texas has blocked some of the state’s counties from enforcing parts of a new law meant to protect election integrity.

The Friday ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez on Senate Bill 1 came just days before early in-person voting in Texas’ primary elections was set to begin Monday, CNN reported.

The legislation in question implements new rules meant to safeguard Texas’ elections process. The measure that Rodriguez temporarily blocked makes it illegal for elections officials to send vote-by-mail applications to registered voters who did not specifically request them.

“The provision makes it a state jail felony for election officials to encourage people to apply to vote by mail. Instead, officials are required to wait until voters request applications,” the Austin American-Statesman reported.

“Since SB 1 took effect Dec. 2, violations have carried a jail sentence of six months to two years and a fine of up to $10,000. Violators also could be subject to civil enforcement by [Texas Attorney General Ken] Paxton, with penalties that include firing and the loss of employment benefits,” the outlet added.

In issuing a preliminary injunction that blocked enforcement of that part of the law in Harris, Travis, and Williamson counties, Rodriguez said the bill violates the First Amendment.

“The State of Texas has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content,” he wrote.

But the bill bans free expression of ideas based on the content of those ideas, he claimed.

The legislation makes it illegal for officials to encourage voters to cast their ballot by mail, but it does not stop them from discouraging voters from doing so, he pointed out.

“As it stands, speech encouraging or requesting the submission of an application to vote by mail is a crime. Discouraging the submission of an application to vote by mail, on the other hand, is not,” Rodriguez said.

The judge also claimed that his ruling “does not affect any voting procedures.”

“It simply prevents the imposition of criminal and civil penalties against officials for encouraging people to vote by mail if they are eligible to do so,” he wrote.

The Statesman reported Paxton was expected to appeal the ruling.