As for whether such a thing was warranted, that’s in the eye of the beholder.
But if anything, the Texas bill was yet more evidence that the motives behind the GOP’s onslaught of new voting restrictions across the country aren’t as pure or substantiated as they claim.
Back in March, Georgia passed its own version of such a bill, drawing rebukes from corporations including Major League Baseball, which pulled its All-Star Game from Atlanta. The pushback was swift; conservatives argued that the bill wasn’t actually that restrictive.
And they had something of a point. The changes that were passed were in many cases within the mainstream of even some blue states. At the same time, that left the big question: Why? Why was the state suddenly passing such measures to rein in certain voting methods despite there being no evidence of significant fraud using those methods — in that state or anywhere else? Generally, you should pass laws to address a demonstrated problem.
About all Republicans could muster was that large portions of the country were suspicious of the election results. Yet they were suspicious in large part because of baseless claims made by a Republican president, Donald Trump, and his allies that courts routinely rejected but Trump’s party conveniently did very little to combat.
Beyond that, there were plenty of provisions that didn’t seem to have any bearing on the legitimacy of any given vote. For instance, Georgia restricted the ability to provide food and water to those waiting in line to vote — a provision that very logically could disproportionately affect urban and predominantly Black areas in which the lines to vote are longer.
Even more pertinent, though, were other provisions — both actual and proposed.
Georgia took power away from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who was one of the few Republicans to strongly rebuke Trump’s voter fraud claims. Arizona recently moved to do the same with its Democratic secretary of state, Katie Hobbs. What bearing does a secretary of state’s power have on the legitimacy of votes — again, without any proof of wrongdoing either by voters or the secretary?
And Georgia’s bill was only less restrictive because it abandoned other, more extreme provisions that had passed in either the state House or state Senate. A provision passed by the House would have strongly curtailed Sunday early voting, and one passed by the Senate would have eliminated no-excuse absentee voting entirely.
That last one brings us to the Texas bill.
The Georgia bill was cast by Republicans as less restrictive in part because it ditched a proposal limiting Sunday early voting that would have disproportionately affected Black churches’ “souls to the polls” events. Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) at times overstated the actual impact of the bills on “souls to the polls,” but the Georgia legislature did at one point consider eliminating Sunday early voting entirely. And at the time of Schumer’s comment, the state House voted to limit Sunday early voting to one Sunday, while previously allowing two. The final version, after the outcry, continued to allow two.
If this was meant to assuage concerns about the bill being targeted at Black churches, the Texas bill thumbed its nose at the whole thing. As The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner notes in her analysis of the bill, it would bar early voting before 1 p.m. on Sundays.
Even the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which otherwise echoed defenses of the Georgia bill by downplaying the Texas bill’s restrictions, called this a mistake:
This is a political mistake, at minimum, in that it’s being spun as an attack on Black churches that have a “souls to the polls” tradition. One lawmaker supporting the bill argued: “Those election workers want to go to church, too.” But some people take care of their religious obligations on Saturdays, and in any event Texas repealed most of its blue laws in 1985. Lawmakers would be wise to drop this provision.
If there’s one phrase in that editorial that is doing the most work, it’s “at minimum.” Even those defending the Texas bill seem to acknowledge that this was a bad idea and that the motivations for such a change might not be entirely holy (so to speak).
Yet Texas Republicans now say this was just a big misunderstanding. Two key Republicans now say the bill’s 1 p.m. Sunday early voting start time was actually a typo, and that it should have been 11 a.m. Except, as the Texas Tribune notes, none of them raised this issue during the debate over the bill, and one of them actually defended it, saying, “Those election workers want to go to church, too. And so that’s why it says 1 p.m. [and] no later than 9 p.m. You can make Sunday service and go after that.” The language of the provision was also changed at some point without addressing the time, despite plenty of reports highlighting it. And getting the number wrong is one thing; transposing “a.m.” and “p.m.” is quite another.
And crucially, that’s hardly the only evidence that the bill would negatively affect minorities and “souls to the polls” in what could logically be understood as a targeted manner. It would also require anyone who drives more than two non-relatives to the polls to submit a signed form stating the reason their passengers required assistance. And it would eliminate two methods disproportionately used by minorities in Houston: drive-through voting and a 24-hour early voting window.
Again, if the name of the game is the sanctity of the vote, why not shore up those methods rather than restrict them? Is a voter transported by their church more suspect than someone who was able to arrive by themselves? Why does transportation method even matter? Even things such as getting rid of ballot drop boxes (which the Texas bill also does) could perhaps be a logical effort to combat potential fraud; limiting methods by which people vote regularly and can be verified like any other voter seems to target a very different supposed problem.
And against the backdrop of what happened in Georgia, it’s even easier to arrive at that more-nefarious conclusion hinted at by the Journal editorial. If ditching a provision to effectively limit “souls to the polls” in Georgia was proof that bill wasn’t so restrictive, what does it say when Texas includes such provisions?
As I’ve said repeatedly throughout this process, it’s not just the final product that matters; it’s also the motivations and the machinations. So much of lawmaking is floating trial balloons and seeing what will pass muster. Georgia did so, and it had to retreat. But sometimes, people get worn down, and proposals that weren’t so feasible before can suddenly work their way through. It’s in many ways the story of the Trump era: the constant pressing of political boundaries until those limits included much of the conduct that once appeared to be out-of-bounds.
For the moment, this proposal has been shelved in Texas — but because of an extraordinary move by Texas Democrats rather than some kind of corporate campaign to defeat it. And it could live on in the special session Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has called for.
Whether it passes, though, it seems that the Overton window has shifted. And it only adds to myriad evidence that the true motivation here isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.