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Federal District Judge Xavier Rodriguez of San Antonio ruled that Harris County officials had a free speech right to inform voters about mail-in voting.
The judge’s decision came just three days before early voting is set to start for the March 1 statewide primary.
The provision in the controversial SB 1, which took effect in December, was a reaction to a Harris County official who tried to mail out absentee voter applications to all voters in the county, according to the Dallas Morning News.
The lawsuit was brought by Isabel Longoria, an elections administrator in Harris County and volunteer deputy registrar Cathy Morgan from Travis and Williamson counties.
Longoria testified in court that the threat of a $10,000 fine or potential jail time made her feel she couldn’t speak to voters freely about the right to request a mail-in ballot.
“I stop mid-sentence sometimes at these town halls and say ‘The law prevents me from saying much more. If you have a question good luck and call us,’” she told the court.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office had argued the state could regulate what county officials communicated to voters about absentee ballots but the judge called the argument “unavailing” since the plaintiffs aren’t state employees.
“The State’s assertion that it is entitled to regulate Longoria and Morgan’s official communications as their employer is wholly unavailing,” Rodriguez said.
The rest of the law remains in effect. Separately, the U.S. Department of Justice is suing Texas over the portion of SB 1 that requires identification requirements for mail-in ballots related to voters with disabilities.
Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to the order or say if it planned an appeal.
March will be SB 1’s first statewide test, according to the newspaper.
Texas doesn’t have no-excuse absentee voting. Those eligible include voters over 65, the sick and disabled or women expected to give birth within three weeks and voters out of the county or in jail during early voting and on election day.