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Texas embarks on a redo of its voting bill

The inside of the Texas capitol dome (Avi Werde/Unsplash.)

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Texas, my beloved home state, is at it again. As expected, Gov. Greg Abbott called for reviving Republicans’ voting bill in the state’s special session, which began Thursday.

The House and the Senate will have public hearings Saturday on the election bill that became top of mind for the entire country after Texas House Democrats walked off the floor at the close of the regular session, breaking quorum and ending the session early to prevent its passage. Both chambers are expected to go late into Saturday night, if not all night. “The caucus is providing breakfast, lunch, dinner and then breakfast again, if that tells you anything,” said one Democrat. (Votebeat will be covering the special session with our partner the Texas Monthly, so stay tuned on both sites for in-depth coverage of the legislative maneuverings.)

The text of the bills reintroduced Thursday make clear that Republicans are far more in sync than they were at the close of the regular session. During that standoff in late May, a group of GOP senators and representatives had emerged from a backroom deal that surprised the entire body by making the bill far more draconian, bucking agreements the House Republicans had made with Democrats. Since then, Republicans have begun publicly sniping at each other, tossing accusations around about exactly who had introduced each change. Republicans quickly abandoned restrictions to Sunday voting and a provision making it easier for officials to overturn the results of elections, both of which had been introduced at the last minute, blaming each other for the ideas.

The bills have otherwise retained most of their heft: They still restrict mail-in voting and prohibit the creative solutions to the pandemic that large counties, most notably Harris County, introduced ahead of November, such as drive-through voting and 24-hour polling places. But the bills look a lot closer to the version introduced before Republicans tinkered with it in secret a little over a month ago.

It’s an interesting sign of what’s to come. Republicans have waffled because they don’t actually want the Democrats to walk out. They know that if Democrats do, the legislature won’t get anything done at all in the special session. And better to achieve something than nothing. With this little budge, they may well keep Democrats on the floor and pass a voting bill after all.

Back Then

Texas politicians have been whipping themselves into a frenzy over fake fraud, typically perpetrated by fictitious minority criminals, for more than a century. In the 1850s, white politicians widely believed that Mexicans living in the new Republic of Texas would take power back through the ballot box, which they’d failed to do in battle.

Thomas Jefferson Rusk, a respected Democratic politician and early Texas leader, said “Hordes” of native Mexicans would “come moving in...and vanquish you at the ballot box though you are invincible in arms.” The restrictions that followed in Texas — poll taxes, literacy tests, etc. — were even more about

disenfranchising Mexican-Americans than Black Americans. After all, there were significantly more of them. Charles Francis Adams Jr., a prominent member of the Adams family and a historian, in 1869 described Mexicans living in Texas as a “political menace” and “foreigners who claim American citizenship but are as ignorant of things American as the mule.” He decried that they had the same electoral power as “the mature, the useful, the industrious, the intelligent.”

In Other Voting News

  • In a bizarre development to the most bizarre election story since the close of 2020, the Arizona Senate president has announced that Senate Republicans will do a third count of Maricopa County’s ballots after Cyber Ninjas wraps its farce. They have purchased two counting machines, and will be doing total counts of the ballots to ensure that they match the total counts done by the county. If they don’t? They’ll count them again. And then over and over and over again until we are all dead, I guess.
  • The Democratic National Committee has announced it will dedicate $25 million nationwide to combat voter suppression and promote voter registration efforts — a seemingly gigantic sum designed to demonstrate to the public their seriousness. Except it’s really not that much money. Party efforts in battleground states during 2020 cost far more. The DNC spent between $7 million to $10 million each to support the Democratic parties in states like Georgia, North Carolina, and Michigan.
  • Several native tribes in South Dakota are suing the state, accusing it of routinely violating federal voter registration laws. The Oglala and Rosebud Nations are the most recent plaintiffs. The suit alleges that members of these nations have faced impossible barriers when attempting to register at the DMV and social services offices, and that registrations filled out in these locations are routinely not processed.
  • California officials are rushing to prepare for the recall election called for Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. Normally they’d have 190 days. This year? Just 75. Election administrators told the legislature that Sept. 14 was the earliest date they could pull this off, and that’s the day they were given.
  • Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, is moving forward on a suggestion from Republicans in the legislature to investigate those responsible for spreading lies about fraud after the 2020 election. Earlier this summer, the Republican-led legislature put out a report faulting individuals with personal stakes in the outcome for spreading misinformation and threatening prosecution.
  • The Board of Elections in New York City has asked for an investigation into allegations that a City Council candidate in Staten Island illegally harvested ballots and registered dead people to vote for him. The candidate, Marko Kepi, is a Republican and former aide to a state legislator.

In His Downtime

Now, for some fun. Our hobbyist this week is the winner of our first Ballot Battle, a game show where election whizzes competed to see who was the whizziest. The victor was Dave O’Brien, policy counsel at RepresentUs. His hobby? Not surprisingly: Trivia.

Dave O’Brien, right, with his D.C. quiz team the Fandy Pantinkins

“It’s hard to say when I started,” he said. “Being an obnoxious know-it-all probably goes back to a very early age.” And, frankly, if you are going to compete in an election quiz bowl, doesn’t being an obnoxious know-it-all go with the territory? It does for me, anyway. “My clearest memory is from college when a friend asked me to join his team for an annual trivia competition hosted by the history department. I think we ended up winning iPod shuffles.”

These days he typically competes with his trivia team, the “Fandy Patinkins,” (“perhaps one of the foremost Mandy Patinkin-themed bar trivia teams in Northwest Washington, D.C.”). The team’s favorite night was in early 2020 — before, you know, everything went to hell. “We ended up staying out much later than intended so we could finish out a prepaid bar tab, which was the prize for first place. We made friends with a birthday party that was also there and closed the place down,” he said. “The lockdown started shortly after that and it turned out to be the last time we went out and saw each other in person for a while. It crystallized in my memory as ‘the last normal night.’ In hindsight, it was a lot like the opening scene of a disaster movie where people are going about life as usual, oblivious of what’s to come.”

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