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The self-proclaimed heroes and martyrs of the Texas Democratic House members who fled to Washington, D.C., aboard a chartered plane (without masks but with a case of Miller Lite and stronger liquids carried discretely in plain brown paper bags) have achieved little except to break quorum and thereby stop the special legislative session back home and prove themselves a super-spreader event in the nation’s capital.
The reason for their rash action was to keep an election reform bill – H.B. 3, sponsored by Republican State Rep. Andrew Murr – from passing. But listen to their many public utterances – from news conferences to cable news appearances to tweets and Facebook postings – and you’ll notice an utter lack of specifics. They condemn the bill as “voter suppression” and “Jim Crow 2.0” but without mentioning exactly what’s wrong with the bill.
That’s because the bill actually expands opportunities for voting, especially during the very popular 13-day early voting period in Texas, during which most of the state’s voters cast their ballots. So maybe a reporter might ask what actual provisions of the bill they oppose?
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To help that process along, here are a few suggestions for an enterprising reporter – or even an interested constituent – to ask the wandering Texans as they lounge in their downtown D.C. hotel rooms, awaiting their next COVID test, Zoom cable hit, fundraising pitch or release from quarantine.
*Do the Texas House Democrats oppose the extra hours H.B. 3 requires polls be open on weekdays during early voting, when most Texans cast their ballots?
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*Do they oppose the extra hours H.B. 3 requires polls be open on weekends – Saturday and Sundays – during early voting?
*Do the wandering Texas Democrats oppose H.B. 3 requiring more counties to provide weekend early voting by lowering the threshold from counties with 100,000 population to counties with at least 55,000 population?
*Do they oppose H.B. 3 making it easier to vote by mail by replacing the cumbersome signature verification process by letting voters provide alternative identification like the number from their driver’s license or a state-provided ID or the last four digits of their Social Security number?
*Do they oppose H.B. 3 requiring counties to notify Texans who vote by mail if they made a mistake on their ballot and allowing them to “cure” that mistake?
*While absent Texas Dems are still collecting the $221 per diem they get each day for attending the special legislative session, do they oppose H.B. 3 guaranteeing the right of poll watchers to actually witness what’s going on while providing additional protections for voters to cast their ballots without interference?
*Some of the Texas Democrats have made it known they want to do away with requiring voter ID, which has long been on the state’s statute book, withstood scrutiny of lengthy litigation, and is not altered by H.B. 3. If the AWOL representatives want to strike it from the state’s election laws, why not offer that as an amendment?
What began with declarations of personal courage and sacrifice has deteriorated into farce, with the traveling party shunned as pandemic-carrying pariahs.
There’s a sense in the Texas Capitol that the quorum-busters’ actions are about allowing counties to offer 24-hour voting, which one of the state’s 254 counties did for one day (Oct. 29) last fall, and allowing able-bodied people to do drive-through voting despite a specific state law permitting it only for people who can’t make their way into the polling place unassisted.
The county in question – Harris – justified the former by a weird interpretation of state law (a requirement that they must have early voting polls open at least a certain number of hours was somehow transmuted into allowing round-the-clock voting) and the latter by asserting the pandemic justified breaking the law.
If that’s what these self-exiled Texas Democrats are bothered about, let them make the case for these two methods publicly and offer amendments.
But that would be the hard work of legislating. Apparently, they thought it would be much more fun to charter a plane and hot foot it off to Washington to stage photo ops with important people and pronounce themselves selfless patriots who were saving democracy. That allows them to avoid tough conversations that might reveal their objections are not so high-minded. Besides, Harris County’s use of these two techniques didn’t provide a big bump in turnout. The county’s turnout was below the state average and 130 other counties had higher turnout, despite not having 24-hour voting or no-excuse drive through for everyone, able and disabled.
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It speaks volume that what began with declarations of personal courage and sacrifice has deteriorated into farce, with the traveling party shunned as pandemic-carrying pariahs. H.B. 3 or something close to it will become law and there will be a price paid by some of the would-be heroes and heroines who ran rather than do their duty.
But for now, can they at least be asked to ditch the patriotic platitudes and spell out what provisions in H.B. 3 they really oppose? It’s the least they can do after murdering “We Shall Overcome” with their off-key, out-of-tempo rendition.
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