The Democratic Party’s opposition to legislative minorities using whatever leverage they have to block legislation is highly situational.
In Washington, DC, where Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress, the Senate filibuster is portrayed as a Jim Crow relic that is profoundly undemocratic. In Austin, Texas, where Republicans control the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the legislature, House Democrats walking out to prevent the passage of a bill with majority support is portrayed as a heroic act preserving our democracy.
The only recourse, they say, is at the federal level. The Senate filibuster should be eliminated — so much for the rights of legislative minorities — and then the narrowest-possible Democratic Senate majority should pass HR1, overriding long-standing, duly passed election laws all around the country and essentially federalizing our elections.
Democracy, they tell us, demands nothing less. On the contrary, this would be a power grab carried out under blatantly false pretenses.
The Texas bill is no more a voter-suppression measure than the Georgia election reform enacted a few months ago, which occasioned outraged accusations of the arrival of Jim Crow 2.0 that ultimately fell flat.
The least defensible part of the Texas law is its provision saying that early voting on the Sunday before the election can’t begin until 1 p.m., which could crimp the traditional “souls-to-the-polls” turnout efforts of black churches. A Republican legislator says that this was a drafting error. Regardless, the provision should — and almost certainly will be — changed.
The rest of the legislation is unobjectionable. It pushes back against what were supposed to be temporary expedients during the pandemic, such as drive-through voting and 24-hour early-voting marathons; Texas democracy was healthy and robust prior to these emergency innovations, and it will remain so when they are gone.
The bill would explicitly forbid election officials implementing practices not contemplated under the state’s election statues, as sometimes happened during the pandemic. In many counties, it would extend the daily minimum hours for early voting by one hour. In certain circumstances, by the way, employers would be required to give employees time off to go vote.
Its provisions for increased security and transparency are hardly draconian. Among other things, the bill would require voters to write a driver’s-license number or other identifier on absentee ballots, matching the existing voter-ID requirement for registering to vote and voting in person.
It would ban public officials from sending out unsolicited mail-in ballots, a common-sense provision to keep excess ballots from floating around. Certainly, it isn’t too much to ask that people affirmatively request their mail-in ballots.
The bill would mandate that all voting systems have a paper trail on or before 2026, with a funding incentive for counties to comply early. Plus, for sizable jurisdictions that can easily pull it off, it would require live-streaming of vote-counting proceedings.
All of this is reported as “restrictive” in the press, but none of it would actually prevent anyone from voting, and there is zero chance that the bill would discernibly affect turnout.
To make this proposal the triggering event for a radical change in US Senate rules to pass the most far-reaching, high-handed federal election bill in the country’s history, one that would wipe out countless state laws as well as bipartisan federal election legislation passed over the last 30 years, would be absurdly pretextual and disproportionate.
The Democrats, just like the Republicans, tend to be hypocritical on legislative process questions, depending on what advances their interests. But on one thing they are admirably consistent, whether at the state or federal level, whether in the minority or majority — stirring up self-serving hysteria over GOP election laws.