Overheated rhetoric on voting laws


The Wall Street Journal

The Democratic narrative on voting is becoming unglued.

“The 21st-century Jim Crow assault is real,” President Biden recently claimed. “We’re facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War — that’s not hyperbole.

As Mr. Biden apparently sees it, the latest Civil War is in Texas, where state lawmakers want to make voting “so hard and inconvenient that they hope people don’t vote at all.”

More than 50 Democrats from the Texas House absconded to Washington, D.C., to deny their chamber a quorum.

This partisan rhetoric is detached from the facts.

What’s proposed in Texas? First, the bills would end two practices that Harris County pioneered last year amid the pandemic: drive-through voting and 24-hour voting. These options were used disproportionately by nonwhites. Perhaps they made sense when every Texan was urged to stay six feet from every other Texan.

But if the Legislature doesn’t want them to be permanent, then reverting to the pre-COVID status quo of 2019 is not some epochal loss for voting rights.

As for 24-hour voting, it isn’t unreasonable to think polling-place mischief might be more likely at 3 a.m. Public confidence can be undermined by even false claims about what happened in the dead of night, including President Trump’s wild allegations about ballot “dumps.”

The Texas bills would allow broad 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 box. To the contrary, in some places the bills would expand mandatory early voting hours.

Mail voters would be asked to verify their identities by supplying a state ID number or the last four digits of a Social Security number. That way election workers could quit squinting at people’s signatures.

The voting bills propose many other provisions that are hardly extreme: Local officials would be barred from sending unsolicited mail-ballot applications. Courts would have to “instruct” felons about how their convictions affect their voting rights.

Employers would be required, “while early voting is in progress,” to permit workers to be absent for the purpose of going to the polls. Ballot harvesting for compensation would be banned.

The argument is not that these bills are perfect, because no election system is. The point is that they are not some “un-American” throwback to Jim Crow, as Mr. Biden claims. If Texas Democrats think one provision or another is wrong, then they should stay in Austin and argue the case to the public.

Mr. Biden is escalating his rhetoric. Part of his aim, after Republicans made gains in 2020 among nonwhite voters, might be to reinforce the message that the GOP is racist. But Mr. Biden is also distorting the truth to justify congressional passage of H.R.1, a constitutionally dubious takeover of voting rules in all 50 states. He is trying to appease frustrated progressives who are starting to blame him for the Senate’s refusal to kill the filibuster.

Before Democrats hail quorum breaking as heroism, they might recall that they are trying to pass the most radical agenda in decades with the narrowest majorities in decades. Who’s really undermining democracy?

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