The melodrama of voting in Texas – WSJ
As the Texas legislative session neared its end on Sunday, lawmakers appeared poised to pass a bill revising the state’s elections, until Democrats made one final move: They squeezed out of the government. building. “Ladies and gentlemen, take your key and leave the chamber with absolute discretion,” a Democratic leader in the House of Representatives told his caucus in a 10:35 p.m. text message.
This extraordinary decision deprived the House of a quorum, killing the bill for now, at the cost of undermining the legislative process. But what do you expect after months of Democratic scares over “voter suppression”? President Biden Saturday called the texas plan “Anti-American” and “part of an assault on democracy”. At least this time, he didn’t say it was worse than Jim Crow, which was the political bomb he threw against the Georgia bill.
The reality is more prosaic. To start with the controversy, the 67-page bill would nullify Covid-19 innovations like the Harris County drive-thru vote and the 24-hour vote. These options were used disproportionately last year by black and Hispanic residents. But when did emergency procedures in the midst of a 100-year pandemic suddenly become the new benchmark? It’s not crazy to think the polling station shenanigans might be more likely at 3 a.m.
The bill says that on the last Sunday of the early poll, polling stations may not open until 1 p.m. It is a political error, at a minimum, in that it is seen as an attack on black churches which have a tradition of “souls at the polls”. A lawmaker supporting the bill argued, “These election workers also want to go to church.” But some people take care of their religious obligations on Saturdays, and Texas repealed most of its blue laws in 1985 anyway. Lawmakers would be wise to drop this provision.
Under the bill, Texas would still offer about two weeks of early voting. Mr Biden’s beloved Delaware will not have an early vote until 2022, when he will have 10 days. The Texas bill would also increase minimum hours. Over the past week, counties with 100,000 residents are currently scheduled to open their “main” polling station 12 hours on weekdays and 5 hours on Sundays. This population threshold would drop to 30,000 inhabitants and six hours would be prescribed on Sunday.
Ballots and apps would ask for a state ID number or the last four digits of a Social Security number. Georgia and Florida have adopted similar measures, and the goal is to verify identity without having to do a subjective analysis of the signatures. In Georgia’s 2018 election, black voters made up 54 percent of rejected ballots for signature or oath issues. The Texas bill says that if the ID numbers match, the voter’s signature would be “presumed” valid.
The bill would change the legal standard for proving fraud to “a preponderance of evidence” over “clear and convincing evidence”. If the number of illegal votes matched the margin, the courts could dismiss a race, without showing that the fraud changed the outcome. Critics say it’s a bane for Donald Trump, but Mr. Trump lost in 2020 under either standard.
Whether the new rules are too lax is a matter of judgment: imagine a race decided by 50 votes, with 51 illegal ballots detected. Did more things slip in? Perhaps the best thing for public confidence would be to re-run the election.
The bill has many difficulties and ends. Offering “vote-gathering services in exchange for compensation” would be prohibited. Tabulators would be prohibited “if a wireless connectivity capability of the equipment has not been disabled”. Communications between officials and voting system providers would generally be considered “non-confidential”. On electoral declarations, postal ballots would be declared separately. Employers would be prohibited, “while early voting is underway,” from refusing to excuse workers who wish to go to the polls.
The Texas bill is not perfect, but no election law is since the exercise involves a balance between access to ballots, election security, ease of administration, etc. The point is, it’s hard to take Mr. Biden’s account of an attack on democracy seriously in a state that gives voters two weeks to vote. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said on Sunday the election bill would be added to the Legislative Assembly’s agenda for an upcoming special session.
So expect more heated rhetoric from supporters like Mr. Biden. But remember his histrionics are meant to give political cover to Congressional Democrats who want to override the election laws of 50 states by blocking HR1 on a partisan vote. This is the real scandal of the electoral law.
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