President Biden has characterized the proposed Texas voter law as “an assault on democracy.” Others have said the proposed legislation is “aimed at restricting Black voters.” And national headlines have slammed the legislation with headlines suggesting Texas is deliberately trying to disenfranchise minority voters with onerous restrictions. Jim Crow version 2.0, some have called it.
I didn’t know what voting restriction awfulness must be afoot in Austin, but whatever it was has been sufficient to send Democrats, including El Paso’s entire House delegation, flying to Washington to prevent passage of the bill. And they have used the opportunity for frequent press conferences denouncing the Texas proposal while lobbying for federal legislation that would enshrine easier voting laws.
In deciding to see what the fuss was all about, I read the 52-page Senate version of the bill with the changes to the existing law marked up. I will let you decide for yourself just how egregious the proposed legislation is but here are some facts that struck me:
Two of the most contentious provisions of the bill would restrict drive-thru and 24-hour voting – procedures used in Houston to improve social distancing because of the pandemic. Yet in looking into it the law simply forbids the emergency voting measures from continuing and reinstates traditions used and accepted by both parties for years.
If I read this right, the opposing argument is that what Texas has been doing is no longer good enough. Opponents point out that 24-hour voting and drive-thru access enabled some people to vote that might not have otherwise.
There are many other provisions in the proposed Senate bill. But it seems like many of these other issues could be debated and perhaps compromise could be found.
For example, the proposed Texas bill says polls may not open until 1 p.m. on the last Sunday of early voting. This is one of the points that has led to the bill being characterized as “an assault on Black voters.” Apparently earlier Sunday hours enable voters to be harvested from church services. Not sure what the big deal is here and why some compromise adjustment to the hours couldn’t be worked out. After all, keep in mind Texas still allows two weeks for early voting while some states, like Biden’s Delaware, don’t allow it at all.
Coming back to vote harvesting: The proposed legislation makes it a crime for anyone to assist in “harvesting” voters for pay. That would include any benefit from a political party, like paying for buses and drivers. There is no problem with assisting voters and getting them to the polls – provided the helpers are not paid for doing so. Frankly, this seems like a nightmare to enforce but it could become an issue in a close election.
Also under the proposed bill, early voting hours in larger counties are increased from eight to nine – just not before 6 a.m. nor after 9 p.m. Also, any voter in line before the polls close must be allowed to vote.
Another contentious issue concerns absentee ballots. Under the Texas proposal absentee ballots could not be sent to voters who did not solicit them. Also, voters would need to identify themselves with a Texas driver’s license number, state-issued ID or the last four digits of their social security number. The proposed law also instructs election officials to accept expired but otherwise valid licenses as ID.
Opponents say that requirement is unfair and will keep many people from voting. They want a voter’s signature accepted as identification. Are there really a lot of people that don’t have any of the three? I guess there must be if this is an issue.
One other provision: The bill would make it against the law for an employer not to excuse an employee to go vote.
There is a great deal more, of course, and a lot of procedures that should not be contentious. For example, there is much discussion of poll watchers and allowing them to observe but not interfere, and measures tightening ballot security after votes are cast and on electronic reporting.
So there you have a brief recap of some of the points that struck me. Well intentioned people may differ on aspects of the bill but the labels bandied like Biden’s “assault on democracy” and others hardly seem justified.
I would add that we reached out to El Paso state Rep. Joe Moody, who is in Washington, last week to explain why the new law was so egregious but we never heard from him.
What do you think? Happy to hear, for publication or not. firstname.lastname@example.org