Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives just flew maskless in a private jet with a case of beer to Washington, D.C.
Normally, this would just be a fundraising trip to see powerful special interests in the nation’s capital. But this flight out of Austin had a different purpose – a quorum-busting walkout to prevent a vote on an election integrity bill designed to safeguard elections in the Lone Star State, It was the second such walkout; Democrats deployed the same tactic in May at the end of Texas’ regular biennial session.
The main point triggering the walkout? Requiring voters who vote by mail to write down one of three government-issued ID numbers – a driver’s license, state ID or last four of the Social Security number – inside a privacy flap on their ballot return envelope to ensure that the vote cast in their name is actually from them.
Today, only a signature match is required, as determined by a county signature verification committee that always has a two-to-one partisan balance and thus is subject to the whims of political subjectivity.
Every state legislature has rules for a quorum – typically enshrined in the state constitution. Of the 50 states, 45 only require half the chamber to be present to constitute a quorum. Four more, including Texas, require two-thirds of the legislature to be present, and Massachusetts is alone in allowing quorum with only two-fifths of the Senate and three-eighths of the House.
Quorum rules are designed to prevent abuse by a majority of lawmakers who, without such protections, could convene a snap session and debate and pass legislation without input from the minority.
But in this case, the requirements for a quorum are being exploited for a different purpose – to prevent consideration of legislation by shutting down a duly called special session of the Texas Legislature. Lawmakers have abandoned their posts and walked off their jobs. For any of the rest of us, that would constitute a fire-able offense. But these lawmakers – and their fans in the major media – see themselves as heroes in the cause of voting rights.
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But are Texas Democrats heroes – or are they fighting for a bad cause?
Democrats, both nationally and in Texas, want to radically remake our election laws, erasing state voter ID laws, making it impossible to verify citizenship for voter eligibility, degrading the quality of voter lists, and dramatically expanding mail-in voting with minimal safeguards against fraudulent ballots.
Part of the reason Texas Democrats fled to D.C. was to promote their party’s counter to election integrity laws being passed in states such as Georgia and Florida, with Texas on the verge of passing similar legislation.
California is the template for this effort. There, the entire election system runs on an honor system, with no official ID required to register or vote, and with 87% of the ballots cast by mail. At the federal level, the plan to California-ize the nation’s elections is known as H.R.1 and S.1. H.R.1, the deceptively named, For the People Act, passed the U.S. House on March 3. It stalled in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans hold a 50-50 balance.
Texans want their elected lawmakers to work, not walk.
The problem with imposing California election standards (meaning no standards) on the nation is that people don’t like it. In Texas, 89% of voters – including majorities of Black, Hispanic and Democrat voters – support presenting an official ID to vote; 81% support requiring some form of ID to vote by mail; 89% support audits of voter lists to ensure dead voters, people who have moved out of state or non-citizens aren’t registered; and 83% support protections to ensure poll watchers can’t be prevented from doing their jobs.
Most importantly, by a two to one margin, Texans reject the Democrats’ flight out of state. Texans want their elected lawmakers to work, not walk.
Democrats say that there is no election fraud in Texas. But the Texas Attorney General’s Office has convicted 140 people for election fraud since 2005, with 44 open election fraud cases pending. More than half of the convictions involved mail-in ballot fraud. And, for about 10 of the 16 years in question, those prosecutions were obtained with only one part-time prosecutor. Today, the AG’s office has three prosecutors working to ensure free and fair elections in a state of some 30 million people.
So, will Texas Democrats continue their walkout indefinitely? Likely not. That’s because 2021 is a redistricting year and, in Texas, when the Legislature fails to draw new legislative lines during their first general session, the Legislative Redistricting Board takes over.
This five-member body is composed of the lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, attorney general, comptroller and commissioner of the general land office – Republicans all. Their decisions on where to draw the lines can potentially end the careers of dozens of lawmakers, who, in Texas, aren’t term limited.
The pending work of the Legislative Redistricting Board may serve as a powerful inducement to return to the work of legislating, especially for Democratic lawmakers with seniority. Even more so as Gov. Greg Abbott is likely to add additional charges to the special session call such as consideration of $5 billion in property tax buy-downs.