Texas: “Does federal law cited by Tarrant County judge really ban free transit rides to polls?”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare this week cited federal law to support his opposition to reimbursing Trinity Metro for free fares on primary Election Day. But, does that law actually prohibit free rides to the polls?

The County Commissioners Court on Wednesday voted down the measure along party lines. It would have reimbursed the transit agency $10,000 for the rides. Trinity Metro announced Thursday that it still plans to offer free rides to polling sites on primary Election Day, March 5.

O’Hare, a Republican, cited U.S. Code 18, section 597, which states that anyone who “makes or offers to make an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote, or to vote for or against any candidate” could face a fine and up to one year in prison.

That statute, however, does not prohibit free bus and train rides to polling stations, according to electoral law experts consulted by the Star-Telegram….

Michael Morley, a law professor at Florida State University, said the law is meant to prohibit vote buying.

“So long as the transportation is not provided as part of a quid pro quo exchange for votes, but instead only seeks to reduce barriers to voting, it is fine,” he wrote in an email.

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