We know this happened.
Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday pointed to Texas Republicans’ push for sweeping new voting restrictions as a key illustration of the need to restore federal oversight of elections.
While meeting at the White House with a group of Democratic members of the Texas Legislature, Harris pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling to nullify the lynchpin of the landmark Voting Rights Act that kept states like Texas under “preclearance” of its voting laws to safeguard the rights of voters of color — a measure Democrats are hoping to bring back with new federal legislation.
“We have seen exactly what we feared when that case came down in 2013. Because that case was an opening of a door to allow states to do what otherwise we have protected against, which is states putting in place laws that are designed, in many cases quite intentionally, to make it difficult for people to vote,” Harris said. “And so this is what we’ve seen over and over again, and what’s happening right now in Texas is, of course, a very clear and current example of that.”
Harris’ remarks came at the start of a meeting with 16 Democratic members of the Texas Legislature. The vice president, who is leading the Biden administration’s voting rights efforts, invited the lawmakers to the White House after state representatives in May staged an 11th hour walkout of the state Capitol to break quorum and prevent a final vote on what is considered one of the most restrictive GOP-backed state voting bills following the 2020 election. On Wednesday, Harris called the Democrats “courageous leaders” and “American patriots.”
The bill Democrats defeated, Senate Bill 7, would have brought sweeping changes to Texas elections by restricting voting hours, narrowing local officials’ control of elections, further tightening the rules for voting by mail and bolstering access for partisan poll watchers, among several other provisions.
In a series of meetings with U.S. senators and congressional leaders, Democrats have been using the trip — and the national attention their quorum break garnered — to push for a pair of federal bills that could preempt portions of the Texas legislation they temporarily prevented from becoming law and restore expansive protections for voters of color. With Republicans in full control of the Legislature, Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to call lawmakers back this summer for a special legislative session to pass the bill into law.
The far-reaching federal For the People Act would overhaul elections, requiring states like Texas to offer automatic and same-day voter registration. Under the law, Texas would also have to drop its tight eligibility requirements for voting by mail, among several other changes to state law. The more narrowly tailored John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act could place Texas back under federal oversight so its election laws could not go into effect before the federal government ensured they wouldn’t undermine the voting rights of people of color.
Under preclearance, various sets of political maps and voting restrictions were placed on hold with federal courts repeatedly finding Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color in drawing them up.
The point of preclearance, and the reason for the urgency, is that in a world where preclearance has been restored, any new legislation that affects voting in any way will have to be reviewed before it can be implemented. In the world we’re in now, those bills go into effect until and unless they are put on hold by a federal court after a lawsuit has been filed. As we know from the past decade’s experience with voter ID and redistricting, there’s no reason to expect that to happen. The federal bills would re-establish preclearance in some updated fashion – remember, the Shelby decision was predicated on the fact that the formula used to determine which states needed to be under preclearance was outdated, and it said that Congress could fix that.
The key, though, is that this would only affect state laws passed afterwards. If SB7 had been passed, or if it passes before Congress can enact its bill, then preclearance doesn’t apply. That’s why the quorum break, which doomed SB7 for now, was so consequential, and why the Texas Dem legislators are good spokespeople for getting that ball rolling. I don’t know what will happen in terms of the Congressional calendar – really, the Senate’s calendar, as the House has already passed both of those bills and would be able to pass a revised version of either in short order – but at least the Dems had a receptive audience for their pitch.
Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Jasmine Crockett met with [Sen. Joe] Manchin’s staff on Tuesday. In comments to Texas Signal, Crockett maintained that the meeting with his Chief of Staff and another aide was quite substantial. According to Crockett, they started going through all the provisions of the For The People Act, also known as H.R. 1, they agreed with.
“I’m not really one for this term incremental change they continually try to sell me in the Texas House, but if this is what incremental looks like that will at least provide us cover now,” said Crockett. She also told the Texas Signal there were certain things that Manchin supported, like vote by mail options for those who are sick or have a conflict with work, that would be a lot more expansive than what we currently have in Texas now.
Crockett believes a big factor in Manchin’s movements towards supporting some version of a voting rights bill stems from his former role as West Virginia Secretary of State. She also believes she and Martinez Fischer were able to really convey the totality of the voter suppression efforts of SB 7 to him and his staff. “We were able to give them some of the details that they just weren’t privy to because they’ve not lived and breathed SB 7 all session,” said Crockett.
Some members of the Texas delegation did actually meet with Manchin in Washington. U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Al Green, and Henry Cuellar helped broker the last-minute meeting, which Garcia called “productive.” Senator Jose Menéndez posted on Twitter afterward, writing “Working together we’ll find a pathway forward to protect [voting rights] of all Americans and protect our democracy.”
The fact that Manchin was engaging in an earnest debate, was also for Crockett a step forward on voting rights legislation. That wouldn’t have happened if Texas House Democrats had not broken the quorum. “I really do feel like we were heard, and we were heard in a manner that we wouldn’t have been heard if we just sat there and pushed our buttons and said no and [SB 7] became law,” said Crockett.
There does appear to be some momentum now for the Manchin version of SB1, which received Stacy Abrams’ support as well. It’s when the Republicans filibuster it, and it becomes clear there isn’t any support on their side for the Manchin revision, that we’ll see whether the immovable object or the irresistible force wins.