Overheated rhetoric on voting laws

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The Wall Street Journal

The Democratic narrative on the vote is unraveling. “Jim Crow’s assault on the 21st century is real,” President Biden said last week. “We are facing the most important test of our democracy since the Civil War – this is not hyperbole.

As Mr Biden apparently sees, the last civil war took place in Texas, where state lawmakers want to make voting “so difficult and inconvenient that they hope people don’t vote at all.” More than 50 Texas House Democrats have fled to Washington, DC, to deny their chambers a quorum.

This partisan rhetoric is detached from the facts. What is on offer in Texas? First, the bills would end two practices that Harris County pioneered last year amid the pandemic: drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting. These options have been used disproportionately. by non-whites. Maybe they made sense when every Texan was asked to stay six feet away from every other Texan.

But if the legislature does not want them to be permanent, then the return to the pre-COVID status quo of 2019 is not a historic loss for voting rights.

When it comes to the 24-hour vote, it is not unreasonable to think that mischief at polling stations might be more likely at 3 a.m. Public confidence can be undermined even by false claims about what happened in the dead of night, including President Trump’s far-fetched claims about the “dumps” ballot. Texas bills would allow extended voting hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Senate version, or 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the House version.

This is not a blockade of the ballot boxes. On the contrary, in some places the bills would extend the mandatory early voting hours.

Voters by mail would be asked to verify their identity by providing a state identification number or the last four digits of a social security number. That way, election workers could stop squinting at people’s signatures.

The voting bills propose many other provisions that are hardly extreme: Local officials would be prohibited from sending unsolicited postal ballot requests. Courts should “educate” criminals on how their convictions affect their voting rights. Employers would be required, “while early voting is in progress,” to allow workers time off to go to the polls. The collection of ballots for compensation would be prohibited.

The argument is not that these bills are perfect, because no electoral system is. The point is, this is not a “non-American” return to Jim Crow, as Mr. Biden claims. If Texas Democrats think one provision or another is wrong, then they should stay in Austin and make the case in front of the public.

Mr. Biden is stepping up his rhetoric. Part of his goal, after Republicans made gains in 2020 among non-white voters, might be to reinforce the message that the GOP is racist. But Mr Biden is also twisting the truth to justify congressional passage of HR1, a constitutionally dubious takeover of voting rules in all 50 states. He tries to appease the frustrated progressives who are starting to blame him for the Senate’s refusal to kill the filibuster.

Before Democrats hail the quorum breaking as heroism, they might remember that they have been trying to push through the most radical platform in decades with the narrowest majorities in decades. Who is really undermining democracy?

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