Hey Texas Dems, Stop Walking Out on Election Reform

By Jason Snead | June 8, 2021 | 11:09am EDT
Texas state House Democrats stage a walkout. (Photo credit: YouTube/TODAY)
Texas state House Democrats stage a walkout. (Photo credit: YouTube/TODAY)

Election reform was at the one-yard line in Texas, until House Democrats staged a walkout. Denied a quorum, the legislature was forced to adjourn and leave the important work of election reform undone.    

Progressive activists and much of the national media hailed the Democrats’ disappearing act and cheered the downfall of S.B 7, the reform package negotiated by House and Senate lawmakers. They claim it’s hard to vote in Texas, and that lawmakers are trying to make it even harder.   

President Biden went so far as to call the bill “un-American” and an “assault on democracy.”    

To borrow one of his signature phrases, attacks like these are malarkey. Texas already has roughly two weeks of early voting, while President Biden’s home state of Delaware offers none.   

Even when Delaware begins allowing early voting next year, Texas voters will still have more days to cast a ballot. Will the president lob incendiary attacks at his home state? Doubtful.    

The reason for that double standard is entirely political. Democrats in Congress are pushing hard to pass H.R. 1, an unprecedented federal takeover of elections.   

The 800-page bill includes provisions to nullify voter ID laws, comprehensively weaken safeguards proven to stop fraud, and force partisan vote trafficking into every community. Its authors are trying to justify this unparalleled power grab by demonizing their opponents, who they claim are actively working to deny the right to vote to minorities.    

Trouble is, the election reforms passing in places like Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and elsewhere are overwhelmingly popular, common-sense measures that keep voting easy and make cheating harder. Rather than debate these policies honestly, politicians and activists are distracting the public with fiery rhetoric and baseless accusations of discrimination.   

Georgia, for instance, expanded early voting, yet President Biden repeatedly leveled false claims that the state was restricting voting hours to target working-class Americans. Washington Post fact-checkers gave him “four Pinocchios” for that.    

Now, the left has brought these same tactics to Texas. Special interests have branded S.B. 7 a discriminatory and “restrictive” voting bill. The truth is far different.    

S.B. 7 beefs up safeguards for absentee voting. Mail-in ballots are inherently more vulnerable to fraud and error, so lawmakers proposed stronger protections against ballot trafficking by paid operatives.  

Only 11% of voters think it should be legal for unsupervised partisans to collect ballots, according to recent polling. It is not difficult to see why: Vote trafficking has been used to disenfranchise voters and swing elections, most notably in a 2018 North Carolina congressional race. Vote trafficking is so obviously risky that a bipartisan election commission co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter advised states to abolish it.    

Texas lawmakers also proposed a new voter ID requirement for mail ballots, bringing the same safeguards for absentee voting as exist for in-person ballots. All a voter would have needed was the number from their driver’s license or a free state ID, or the last four digits of a Social Security number.   

Voters could provide a “statement” if they had neither. Opponents attacked the ID measure as discriminatory, while ignoring the fact that overwhelming majorities of black and Hispanic voters favor ID laws, as do three in four voters overall.    

The bill also expanded mandatory minimum hours for early voting. Texas law requires counties with more than 100,000 people to offer at least 12 hours of voting each day during the last week of early voting. S.B. 7 would broaden that mandate to counties with just 30,000 people.   

On Sundays, jurisdictions would be required to offer a minimum of six hours of voting instead of five. And the bill created a legal guarantee that polling places cannot turn voters away as long as they are in line by the time a voting location is scheduled to close.    

What about the elimination of drive-through and 24-hour voting? Critics claimed that decision is proof that S.B. 7 is all about restricting voting, but the truth is that both were concocted as a pandemic response, not a new norm for voting. Harris County’s own website says drive-through voting was created to offer a “safer, socially-distant alternative to walk-in voting.” The pandemic may have justified these changes, but that will not be relevant next year, and Texas is well within its rights to ban voting in the dead of night.   

Progressives are cheering the demise of S.B. 7, but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has already indicated he will call the legislature back to address election reform in a special session later this year.    

In the meantime, activists will continue to spin good-faith election reform as an “assault on democracy” in order to manufacture support for the unprecedented takeover of elections they demand with H.R. 1. The public should note the hypocrisy, though, of applauding Texas Democrats for stonewalling the legislature while demanding that senators in Washington end the filibuster so Republicans cannot stop them from forcing through H.R. 1 with a bare, partisan majority.   

Voters deserve a strong democracy with elections they can trust. The fight to deliver that ideal is far from over. 

Jason Snead is Honest Elections Project Action's executive director. He had previously served as a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation's Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.

Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

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