The real impact of Texas’ new ‘election integrity’ law
Early voting begins Monday for the 2022 primary election — the first election since Republicans passed an “election integrity” law.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa called the new law “a brazen attack on Texas voters — an attack that should never have happened.” He also called Gov. Greg Abbott “a would-be dictator who will do anything to cling to power, even at the expense of the voices of millions of Texans and the future of our democracy.”
These days, the job description for party presidents seems to include strident rhetoric. In December, when the United States Supreme Court summarily refused to consider a silly lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to nullify elections in four states that had opted for Joe Biden, the Republican president of At the time, Allen West issued a statement implying secession: “Perhaps the law-abiding states should unite and form a union of states that will abide by the constitution.
The reality is that Texas’ new election law is making it harder to vote, especially for voters who need help and those who prefer to vote by mail. For this and other reasons that I will discuss below, it is very bad law. But it could have been much worse. Consider these two provisions in an early version adopted by the Senate.
It would have been forbidden to open the polls before 1 p.m. on Sundays during the early voting period. It was not so that voters heading to the polls could take advantage of the Sunday beer and wine sales that start at noon. This was to undermine popular Sunday “souls to the polls” events in black churches.
Another first provision was even more blatant. He proposed a formula that would close polls in heavily minority districts that tend to vote Democratic and add new polls in whiter Republican districts. Harris County would be hardest hit. A Texas Tribune analysis said the district of Democrat Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving black member of the state House of Representatives, would lose 11 polling sites. Republican Rep. Mike Schofield’s suburban district would win 18.
These two provisions were so racist that they were removed from the bill as soon as they were made public.
Another provision would have made it easier for a judge to order a new election. The standard for nullifying an election due to fraud would change from the current standard of “clear and convincing evidence” to the lower standard of “preponderance of evidence”.
Worse still, if a judge found that the total number of fraudulent votes exceeded the margin of victory, he could void the election without determining which candidate the fraudulent votes favored, as is currently the case. The judge could just assume that 100% was for the winning contestant.
This measure was so ridiculous that the managers of the bill not only withdrew it when it was made public, but refused to disclose who had put the measure in the bill.
While the law doesn’t include measures as egregious as these, it is clearly an attempt to curb voter turnout in a state that already ranks among the most restrictive in the nation. The most obvious area is the new requirements for postal votes.
Issues with new requirements that mail-in ballot applications include either a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a voter’s social security number — whichever was given at the time of registration – have already been the subject of much publicity as thousands of applications are rejected either because they lack information or because election officials are unable to verify the figures.
This provision resulted in the denial of thousands of applications across the state. In Travis County, about half of the applications were rejected as defective.
In Harris County as of Sunday, just under 25,000 absentee ballot requests had been approved, less than half the number approved at this time in 2018. Nearly a third of the number of requests, 7,791, had been rejected, including 2,747 for missing or unmatched driving licenses. or social security numbers. Poll workers are working 10-hour days six days a week trying to contact voters with defective applications, according to Leah Shah, spokeswoman for the county’s Election Administration Office.
At least as effective in suppressing the vote is the law’s provision prohibiting election offices from sending mail-in ballot application forms unless a voter requests it. It’s a step that many seniors – voters 65 and older are automatically qualified to vote by mail – often forget or don’t know how to do.
Political parties and individual candidates are allowed to send unsolicited forms, but this often causes problems. One of them popped up in Harris County. In the past, the county has sent nominations to voters it knows are 65 or older, many because they have previously voted by mail. The county would pre-check the box that says the voter is 65 or older.
This year, the Harris County Republican Party sent out unsolicited nominations to its own senior voter rolls. Many are obviously grateful, but the party hasn’t thought to pre-tick the over-65 box and many applications are coming in without the required tick.
Since no evidence has been produced of widespread fraud in mail-in ballots, the provisions that make them more complicated and harder to obtain only serve to suppress the vote – even in cases where it is a suppression of equal opportunity.
But the law clearly targets large cities, which tend to vote Democratic.
During the 2020 election, during the most frightening phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than a few election officials worked hard to make voting easier and safer. In Bexar County, early polling stations were kept open until 10 p.m. to prevent crowding. The law now requires that they be closed at 9 p.m.
More ambitiously, Harris County has kept some early polling places open for 24 hours on some high-profile nights. Additionally, they offered drive-thru voting in 10 locations. Both initiatives were extremely popular. More than 128,000 people voted from their cars. Some 17,425 people voted at the 10 early voting sites which, for one day, were open all night.
Drive-thru sites have been particularly effective with millennials and black voters. Millennials made up 42% of drive-thru voters and just 28% of all first-time voters. Blacks made up 44% of drive-thru voters and just 12% of all early voters.
Given the voting preferences of urban blacks and millennials, it’s no wonder Republicans banned drive-thru voting, even though security procedures were the same as indoor voting.
In a rational world, public servants who worked long hours and went out into the cold of the night to help the public perform their civic duties would be hailed as heroes. They would have been held up as role models for the rest of the state.
Instead, our legislature cast them as villains, as promoters of voter fraud, even though no evidence of voter fraud at nighttime polls or drive-thru in Harris County has surfaced.
Instead of praising officials for making it easier for seniors to vote by mail, the legislature made it a crime punishable by up to two years in prison for officials to mail in absentee ballots. unsolicited to qualified voters. It also criminalized other actions by election officials, leading some election judge volunteers at Bexar County training sessions to ask if the county will provide legal defense if they are charged with a crime for making a mistake. . (It will be.)
This is perhaps the most damaging aspect of the new law. Many of his supporters admitted there was no evidence of substantial fraud, but said voters had lost confidence in the integrity of the election and the law was needed to restore that confidence. Many had come to doubt the integrity of our elections, but largely because of false claims of a “stolen” election by Donald Trump and his supporters.
Trump’s claim that the presidential election was ‘stolen’ was so heavily amplified by right-wing media that 147 Republicans in Congress voted against certifying Joe Biden’s victory and many local and in-country Republican candidates. statewide across the country argue that Trump has truly won a litmus test in the current Republican primaries.
Can we therefore be sure that the elections next November and those of 2024 will be considered fair, honest and safe? Not a chance, and those who drafted our new electoral law know it. This law will have exactly the opposite effect.
By making “election integrity” the most important piece of legislation in the 2021 Legislature — and in particular by legally defining the well-meaning actions of honest election officials and workers as crimes — the Legislature and Abbott will not have allayed unfounded public suspicions.
Instead, they confirmed them. Why, after all, would we need the massive voter fraud law if there was no massive voter fraud?