Free speech advocates are declaring victory in McKinney, for now.
Just weeks after a state judge blocked enforcement of the city’s new restrictions on political free speech, McKinney City Council voted tonight to repeal sections of its electioneering ordinance that are being challenged in court as unconstitutional.
The vote was 5–0. Council members Chuck Branch and Tracy Rath were absent.
McKinney’s council unanimously approved the restrictive ordinance last October, ostensibly to protect voters from overzealous electioneering. But its impact on political free speech became apparent during the March primary election – the first since the ordinance was passed.
Candidates and campaign workers were shocked when they showed up at city-owned polling locations and were told they could only place signs and hand out literature in a “Designated Area for Electioneering.” Some of the free speech zones were hundreds of feet from building entrances; one was in a muddy field.
Activists began protesting the ordinance during the early voting period, openly electioneering in areas prohibited by the city but outside the state-mandated 100-foot buffer zone. On the last day of early voting, the city ticketed the activists; they then sued the city to stop it from enforcing the ordinance.
District Judge Benjamin Smith granted the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order on March 5. Smith then granted a temporary injunction on March 29, calling the ordinance “facially unconstitutional.”
Arguments in the case had been set for May 14, but the city requested and was granted a continuance until September. Now council members are hoping their vote tonight will eliminate the need for legal action going forward.
City Attorney Mark Houser said he doesn’t know how the pending litigation will be affected.
“Many of the issues in this version are issues that were raised in that case,” he told council members. “I think we can be hopeful that litigation would end, but I can’t tell you that the other side will take that position.”
Plaintiff Aaron Harris told Texas Scorecard he’s “elated that the city finally did the right thing” and reversed its course on the issue:
“It is unfortunate that it took this much of a fight with multiple court hearings, costing citizens tens of thousands of dollars, to get the city to do the right thing. McKinney continues its tradition of pursuing bad policies resulting in failed legal action. It shouldn’t be this hard to maintain our rights.”
“For now, speech is once again a right in McKinney,” Harris added. “Campaign on.”
But the electioneering restrictions aren’t gone for good, according to Mayor George Fuller.
“I’ll certainly bring up the ordinance again,” Fuller said at the conclusion of the council meeting. “I do believe people have the right to go in and vote and not be harassed.”