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Voting Rights Act

The Lege is now 3/4 done with redistricting

All but the Congressional maps are done. They’re just plowing through it.

The Texas Legislature is nearing the end of its work to incorporate a decade’s worth of population growth into new political maps — pressing forward with efforts to cement GOP dominance of the statehouse and deny voters of color a greater say in who gets elected.

In the final stretch of a 30-day special legislative session, the Republican majorities in the House and Senate on Friday almost simultaneously signed off on new political maps for the opposite chamber, sending them to Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, for his signature. The votes were largely procedural as neither chamber made any changes. It’s customary for each chamber to defer to the other in drawing up maps for its own members, but both must give them a vote.

By a vote of 81-60, the House granted approval to a Senate map that would draw safe seats for Republican incumbents who were facing competitive races as their districts diversified over the last 10 years.

The Senate gave an 18-13 vote to a House map that would fortify the Republican majority of the 150 districts, bolstering those that had grown competitive over the last decade and devising new battleground districts.

The House also signed off on a new map for the Republican-controlled State Board of Education, which sets standards for Texas public schools. Still left on the docket is a House vote on a redraw of the state’s congressional map that would largely protect incumbents in Congress while reducing the number of districts in which Black and Hispanic residents make up the majority of eligible voters. That vote is expected Saturday.

If adopted, the maps could remain in place for the next 10 years, though it’s all but certain that they will face legal challenges that could result in changes.

[…]

Sixteen Republican incumbents will be drawn into safe districts for reelection, while two Senate seats being vacated by Republicans would almost certainly go to new GOP candidates over Democrats next year based on the percentage of voters in the district who voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in last year’s presidential race.

Democrats would also likely lose Senate District 10 in North Texas, represented by Sen. Beverly Powell of Fort Worth. That would shift the Senate’s partisan makeup from the current 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats to 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats under the proposed map.

Voters of color in the district, which sits entirely in Tarrant County, have banded together with white voters over the last decade to elect their candidates of choice. Its eligible voters are 21% Black, 20% Hispanic and 54% white.

But under the proposed map, SD 10’s Black and Hispanic populations are split into two other districts with majority-white electorates.

The voters who remain in the newly drawn District 10 would also see major changes. Black and Hispanic voters in urban areas of south Fort Worth would be lumped in with seven rural counties to the south and west that would drive up the district’s population of white eligible voters to 62% while diminishing its population of voters of color.

Tarrant County House Democrats warned that federal courts had ruled that a similar attempt to redraw the district last decade was discriminatory. They offered multiple amendments to keep District 10 entirely in the county.

[…]

The House’s new map also pulls back on Hispanic and Black voters’ potential influence in electing their representatives.

The map brings the number of districts in which Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters down from 33 to 30. The number of districts with Black residents as the majority of eligible voters would go from seven to six. Meanwhile, the number of districts with a white majority among eligible voters would increase from 83 to 89.

The map moved through the Senate chamber without any discussion, save for an earlier objection from state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a Democrat from the Rio Grande Valley, during a Senate Redistricting Committee meeting Friday morning.

Lucio denounced a revision to the map that would carve up predominantly Hispanic communities in the Rio Grande Valley in service of creating a new competitive House district in the typically blue region. The change, forced by a member who does not represent the affected districts, blindsided the House members from the area.

“Members, this is my fourth redistricting session,” Lucio told other members of the committee. “In my time in the Legislature, I have never seen such blatant disregard for the process.”

Meanwhile, Republicans shot down Democratic proposals to create new opportunities for Hispanic or Black Texans to control elections.

State Rep. Todd Hunter, the Corpus Christi Republican serving as the House’s chief map-drawer, has previously argued the map “achieves fair representation for the citizens of Texas” while complying with federal law.

The redraw will ultimately aid Republicans’ ability to control the chamber for years to come.

The House map creates 85 districts that would have favored Trump at 2020 levels of support and 65 that would have voted for Biden. The current partisan breakdown of the House is 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, though Trump only won 76 of the current districts in 2020.

See here and here for some background. The speed with which these maps have been approved is I believe one part there being basically no changes proposed in the other chamber, and one part a sense of urgency on the legislators’ part to get the hell out of town already. I can hardly blame them for that, but in the end it’s up to Greg Abbott.

On the subject of litigation over these maps, on claims of racial discrimination and voting rights violations, I remain pessimistic about the likelihood of any redress from the courts. Not because I think the maps are fair and accurately reflect the population, but because I have no expectation that this Supreme Court will countenance any voting rights claims. We could still do something about that at a federal level, but until Senators Manchin and Sinema let go of their bizarre obsession with the filibuster as it is currently defined, that ain’t going anywhere.

That said, I am reasonably optimistic about the potential for gains in the State House, if not in 2022 then in the coming years. The Chron story on the passage of these maps is a reminder of why.

The new Texas House map will protect Republican control by shedding Democratic-leaning areas where the party has lost support and moving those to blue districts while shoring up red ones.

That give-and-take is evident in west Harris County where two red districts, represented by Republican state Reps. Mike Schofield of Katy and Lacey Hull of Houston, are redrawn to include red-leaning precincts from Democratic state Rep. Jon Rosenthal’s nearby district; Rosenthal’s district will get blue-leaning areas now represented by the two Republicans.

As the state’s demographics change, however, there are only so many reliably red areas from which to pull. That meant for some districts, the best Republicans could do was make changes to benefit incumbents.

For example, the Energy Corridor district represented by state Rep. Jim Murphy, a Republican who is not seeking re-election, would give up some GOP precincts to Hull. Former President Donald Trump won Murphy’s district by 4 percentage points in 2020, but under the new map, that margin would drop to 2 points.

You’ve seen me make a version of this argument in previous posts. In the House, unlike the other maps, the Republicans were constrained by the county rule, which did not allow them to extend mostly rural districts into urban and suburban counties to dilute their Democratic communities. That forced them to draw a large number of districts with a relatively modest margin for Donald Trump, and the large majority of them are in counties where the trends have been moving strongly in a Democratic direction. Things can certainly change, and any given election can favor one party or the other, but overall that seems like a highly unstable equilibrium for the GOP.

The fourth map is of course the Congressional map. The Senate approved a map a few days ago, and the House committee approved it with no changes, as House Redistricting Chair Todd Hunter insisted that any amendments be made on the House floor. That puts them in position to be done with the entire business by the time the session ends, though I expect there to be a big fight when this map comes up for debate. The proposed map does some truly outlandish things to break up urban counties and communities of color, which I’m sure will draw a ton of heat and more threats of litigation from Dems. I expect them to get the job done, though if there are changes it will have to go back to the Senate for final approval. If it needs to go to a conference committee, that will almost surely require a fourth special session to finish it off. God help us all. Daily Kos has more.

Senate passes Congressional map

Start the litigation countdown. Yes, I know, this still has to pass the House, but still.

The Texas Senate approved a map Friday that would largely protect incumbents in Congress while reducing the number of districts in which Black and Hispanic residents make up the majority of eligible voters — stymieing the growth of the state’s Democratic Party representation in Washington, D.C.

The congressional map is focused more on protecting incumbents than on growing the power of the dominant Republican Party in the state by flipping districts from blue to red. But the map, proposed by GOP state Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, helps Republicans by increasing the number of districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election and decreasing those that would have gone for Joe Biden.

In anticipation of federal challenges to the map, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican who presides over the Senate, said in a statement Friday that the proposal approved by the chamber was “legal and fair” and represented a “commitment to making sure every Texan’s voice is heard in Washington, D.C.”

[…]

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, proposed a map that would create three additional districts where Hispanics made up the majority, bringing the number of those districts to 10.

But Republicans rejected the proposal, with Huffman saying the amendment had been drafted less than 24 hours before the Senate’s vote on the maps and would result in a “detailed and painstaking racial gerrymander” in North Texas to draw a new Hispanic-majority district in the same area as the current Congressional District 33, represented by U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth.

Gutierrez accused Republicans of racially discriminating against voters of color.

“How else do we describe a situation where Texas gains new political power because of the physical presence of millions of Black, Brown, and Asian bodies, and yet the political establishment does not give those very Texans the ability to elect more candidates to represent them?” he said in a statement. “It is an insult to the foundations of our democracy.”

Under the proposed maps, voters of color may end up with less representation in the congressional delegation. The new map drops the number of districts in which Hispanics make up a majority of eligible voters from eight to seven, and the districts in which Black Texans make up a majority of eligible voters from one to zero.

The number of districts where whites make up a majority of eligible voters goes up to 23 although the state’s white population — which increased by just 187,252 — was swamped by the growth of people of color.

See here for more on the initial map, which looks to be largely the same as the final map. Which we know is totally fair and representative because Dan Patrick says it is. The House will likely make some changes, but it seems unlikely to be substantively different. I’ll say this much, they’ve given Harris County Democrats a new district to target, and I feel confident that any Republican who wins the new CD38 is never going to get a free pass. I’ll be interested to see who files for this on the Democratic side.

As for the coming litigation, the arguments are clear, it’s just a matter of what SCOTUS will allow in the post-Voting Rights Act world that it wants. I will say again, it’s not too late for a new Voting Rights Act to be passed. We’re going to need an upgrade in the US Senate to make that happen, I fear.

Speaking of litigation, I would love to know what the status of the Gutierrez/Eckhardt lawsuit is. That had to do with the legislative maps, not the Congressional map, but given the speed with which those maps are moving along, we will be reaching a point of no return soon. Let’s at least have a hearing on this one before events make it moot, OK?

UPDATE: I should have spent more time looking at the District Viewer, because I have just now realized that this map moves me out of CD18, where I’ve been for 30 years, and into CD29. I feel a little weird about that.

One more lawsuit against Texas’ voter suppression law

From Mi Familia Vota:

Non-profit civic engagement organization Mi Familia Vota, along with individual voters, filed suit today in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio seeking to block a new voter suppression law enacted by the Texas Legislature.

The lawsuit challenges Texas Senate Bill No. 1 (SB 1), a law designed to suppress votes from Texans of color and other marginalized communities through measures that include prohibiting drive-through voting, limiting voting hours, making it unlawful for counties to automatically mail eligible voters mail-in ballot applications; implementing stricter rules for voting by mail; allowing election officials to reject allegedly defective ballots without notice to the voter prior to the election; implementing monthly purges of voter rolls; limiting physical and language assistance at the polls; and enabling partisan poll watchers, which creates increased risk of voter intimidation.

The law was passed on the heels of the 2020 election, which saw enormous gains in the number of Black and Latino voters in Texas, in part driven by counties like Harris County, which took actions to make voting safe and accessible, including by offering drive-through and 24-hour voting options. “Texas’s new voter suppression law, 2021 Texas Senate Bill No. 1, 87th Legislature (“SB 1”), is a calculated effort to disenfranchise voters,” the complaint reads. “If allowed to stand, the bill will unconstitutionally burden qualified voters and inevitably prevent many voters from lawfully casting their ballots in future elections.”

The plaintiffs argue that these changes to voting law in Texas create an undue burden on voters, especially those who are Black or Latino, in violation of the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They cite a pattern of voter suppression legislation in Texas throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, and they demonstrate as false Texas officials’ claim that the law is targeting “voter fraud.”

“Latinos and other voters of color came out to vote in big numbers in 2020,” said Angelica Razo, Texas State Director for Mi Familia Vota. “We saw places like Harris County come up with ways of making voting widely available and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our state should empower voters to find safe and accessible voting options. Instead, our legislators chose to suppress voters, make it harder for us to vote, and subject us to voter intimidation. Voting is a constitutional, protected right, and we are proud to continue to advocate for the voting rights of our community, so that all eligible voters are able to exercise their right to vote.”

[…]

The defendants in this case are Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Texas Deputy Secretary of State Jose Esparza, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The plaintiffs are represented by Free Speech For People, a nonpartisan legal advocacy nonprofit dedicated to defending our democracy; the law firm of Stoel Rives; and the law firm of Lyons & Lyons. Free Speech For People filed a federal lawsuit last month in Phoenix, on behalf of Mi Familia Vota, Arizona Coalition for Change, Living United for Change in Arizona, and Chispa Arizona, to block two new Arizona laws restricting voting rights.

”SB 1 creates unconstitutional burdens on the right of Texans to vote, in an effort to block voters–and specifically voters of color–from voting and having their votes counted,” said Courtney Hostetler, Senior Counsel for Free Speech For People. “It shuts down reasonable practices that counties have implemented to increase voters’ access to the polls. It makes voters and election officials vulnerable to intimidation. And it will force certain voters to jump through costly and time-consuming hoops to remain on the voter rolls. The law violates the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

A copy of the lawsuit is here. It’s lawsuit number 6 by my count – there were two federal lawsuits filed before SB1 was signed, then two more federal lawsuits plus a state lawsuit filed right after it was signed. I still haven’t really read any of them, but these are all people who have been down this road many times before. Their arguments may not work in the courts that we have now, but they will have merit regardless. I expect the federal suits to get combined, maybe not all of them into one but some of them. And it will surely take months before we get our first hearings and maybe rulings. Stay tuned, and do keep reminding our Democrats in Washington that it’s still not too late to pass a federal voting rights bill.

More redistricting stuff

Just a roundup of some redistricting stories. We’ll start with the DMN.

The new map, part of a process of redrawing legislative boundaries every 10 years, makes significant changes in North Texas, where Democrats likely will gain a seat held by Republican Jeff Cason. The district would move to an area made up of mostly minority voters.

But the Republican proposal also adjusts the southern Denton County district represented by Democrat Michelle Beckley to make it more favorable for a GOP candidate. Beckley has opted to run for Congress in 2022 against Republican incumbent Beth Van Duyne in Congressional District 24.

Meanwhile, the North Dallas district represented by John Turner would move west and become a majority Hispanic district in Oak Cliff and Grand Prairie. Turner is retiring after his term ends, and had he stayed, he would have been paired with a Republican Morgan Meyer.

In North Texas, Republicans had the goal of protecting their incumbents who could be in trouble during the next decade. They made alterations that now have the Dallas County seats held by Republicans Angie Chen Button of Garland and Meyer, who lives in University Park. The new maps place them in areas won in 2020 by Donald Trump, but only at a 50% to 49% margin. Those districts will remain battlegrounds as Democrats try to make Dallas County a blue oasis.

Republicans bolstered their Tarrant County seats, except for the one held by Cason, which will become more Democratic. Cason also was one of only two Republicans who voted against House Speaker Dade Phelan in January. And they made the Collin County districts represented by GOP Reps. Matt Shaheen and Jeff Leach stronger for a Republican, but as with the case in Dallas County, the Collin County seats will remain targets for Democrats.

“Republicans did their best to cement their majority and, from a partisan gerrymandering standpoint, they played this very smart,” said David de la Fuente, a senior policy analysts for the center-left group called Third Way. “They didn’t go overly aggressive for new pickup opportunities for themselves because they know that a lot of this growth that’s happening in Texas is growth that could benefit the Democratic Party, so they tried to stop losses more than anything else.”

[…]

Rep. Jasmine Crockett, a Dallas Democrats who represents District 100, which includes parts of southern and eastern Dallas County, as well as West Dallas, is upset that her district is slated to incur a radical drop in its Black population. Under the new maps, the number of voting age Black residents District 100 will drop from 34.6% to 27%. The white voting age population would increase from 22% to nearly 37%. Crockett’s voting age Hispanic population drops from 41% to 29%.

“They have taken the voice away from African Americans in my district and that’s a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act,” Crockett said. “They are spitting on the legacy of HD 100. They went too far.”

Most of the Black population lost by Crockett will be moved to the nearby District 104 that is represented by Dallas Democrat Jessica González. Her new constituents would include residents from the historic Joppa neighborhood, a community built by freed slaves. District 104 has largely changed, González said. The district now extends to Mesquite and Garland.

While she would pick up Black population from districts represented by Crockett and Rose, González said the number of eligible voters with Hispanic surnames would drop from over 50% to about 48%. That could be a Voting Rights Act violation, analysts say.

Crockett and González were vocal participants of the quorum break by House Democrats to stall a controversial elections bill.

“I’m not too shocked that it ended up being me they targeted,” Crockett said. “I kind of wear it as a badge of honor…It is still a safe Democratic seat, but partisan gerrymandering is legal and when you slice and dice communities of interests, you end up with a problem.”

State Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, would also have the Black population in her district sharply reduced, and she would lose Paul Quinn College. Rose’s district would see a drop in Black voting age population–from 34% to 26%. The Hispanic voting age population in the district would rise from 58% to 63%.

Black residents represented 25% of the growth in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Well, that answers my question about what Rep. Cason did to offend the redistricting gods. Gotta say, I was under the impression that doing what was done here to Rep. Crockett’s district was called “retrogression” and it was a no-no under the Voting Rights Act. It’s not clear to me if that slicing and dicing was done for strategic reasons or just out of spite. Wait for the lawsuits, I guess.

Here’s the Chronicle:

“The map gives Republicans a slight advantage,” said Ross Sherman of the advocacy group RepresentUs, which works with the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to grade redistricting proposals. “This seems to be a trend this cycle: another map producing safe seats and insulating politicians from their constituents.”

The Gerrymandering Project gave the proposed House map a “C” in fairness for its GOP advantages. It’s the highest grade a Texas map has received so far, after proposals for congressional and state Senate maps earned “F” grades.

[…]

Speaking in general about the maps, GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser said the Republicans tried to “lock in the gains” they earned during the 2020 election, rather than “be too aggressive” and shift blue seats their way.

The House seats currently are divided almost equally between districts that favored Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden in 2020. The current map includes 76 Trump-led districts and 74 Biden-led districts, but the new map shifts that support to 86 in favor of Trump and 64 in support of Biden.

Texas grew by roughly 4 million people over the past decade, a surge driven almost entirely by people of color, especially Latinos. Updating the political maps is required every 10 years, to account for such shifts.

Still, the proposed House map reduces the number of majority-minority districts by voting age population. Previously, 67 districts were majority-white; the new map proposes 72 districts that have mostly white voters.

Those numbers change dramatically when evaluating estimates for adult citizens. Using those figures, the House currently has 83 majority-white districts, compared with 89 under the new map. And while the current districts include 33 with Hispanic majorities and seven with Black majorities, those numbers would fall to 30 and four, respectively.

“These maps do nothing but preserve the status quo at the expense of Black and brown Texans,” said Anthony Gutierrez, the executive director of the good-government group Common Cause Texas.

Same observation about the reduction of majority-minority districts. I mean, I get that the Voting Rights Act may as well be written on toilet paper with this Supreme Court, but it’s still theoretically the law of the land. The Republicans may have had more challenges with the State House districts because of the law that requires districts to be entirely within counties where possible, which prevented them from putting pieces of urban counties in the same district with rural counties, which was not the case for the Congress or State Senate maps. Again, I figure the lawyers will have a lot to say about all this when the dust settles.

Speaking of Congress:

In a strongly-worded letter, U.S. Reps Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green said they oppose the Republicans’ proposed redrawing of their districts and say they were not consulted before the map was released to the public.

The map “makes radical and unneeded changes to the two local congressional districts that include the majority of Black voters in Harris and Fort Bend counties,” the letter to the Texas Senate Redistricting committee states.

There are massive changes for Harris County in the congressional redistricting plan the Texas Senate released earlier this week. The county would still have nine members of Congress, but the district lines would be dramatically altered to improve the re-election chances of current Republicans and create a new congressional seat that appears to have been drafted to ensure another Republican would be elected to Congress.

The map would have a dramatic impact on the districts represented by Jackson Lee and Green, changing who represents 200,000 mostly Black residents.

Jackson Lee’s 18th Congressional District would not only lose the Third Ward, but also downtown Houston, the University of Houston and Texas Southern University — most of those areas would instead be shifted to the 29th Congressional District, represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia.

And the Republican map would put Jackson Lee’s home in Riverside Terrace into Green’s 9th Congressional District, meaning she would not even be able to vote for herself unless she moved. It would also put Jackson Lee’s main district office for the 18th in Green’s district, forcing her to move it.

“No other member of the large Texas delegation is so severely impacted by the proposed map,” the letter notes, pointing out at Jackson Lee’s 18th Congressional District has roots that tie back to Barbara Jordan, who in 1972 became the first Black woman to represent Texas in Congress.

I said before that Reps. Green and Jackson Lee would easily win the new districts as drawn, but what was done to them is clearly an insult. For Sen. Huffman to claim that no one got in touch with her about the maps she was drawing is disingenuous, especially when she knows what effect those maps are going to have. You have the power, you have the responsibility. Spare me the whining.

More from the Statesman:

Nonwhite residents accounted for about 95% of the population growth that gave Texas two additional seats in the U.S. House.

Despite that, the number of predominantly Hispanic congressional districts in Texas would fall from eight to seven, while majority Anglo districts would rise from 22 to 23, in the Republican-drawn map unveiled this week, said Gloria Leal with the League of United Latin American Citizens.

[…]

“Toss-up seats, which presented an opportunity for Hispanics to elect candidates of choice, were cut from 12 to one,” Leal said. “This blatant attempt to increase partisanship in districts not only results in the suppression of minority votes, but it eliminates the opportunity for Hispanics to elect a candidate of their choice in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.”

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston and chairwoman of the committee, said the map was drawn in a “color-blind way,” without taking into account the race of residents.

“We did not consider race in drawing the maps at all,” Huffman said. “Once we drew the maps, we provided them to our legal counsel … and we are advised that they were legally compliant” with the Voting Rights Act.

Michael Li, with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, testified that creating the map without regard to race is not enough to insulate it from legal challenges, particularly if lawmakers know about its adverse impact on nonwhite Texans.

Li said the proposed map raised several “red flags,” particularly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Black and Hispanic populations increased sharply in the past decade, yet no new districts were created to give nonwhite voters an opportunity to elect preferred candidates. At the same time, SB 6 would move a significant Latino population from a district held by U.S. Rep. Mark Veasy, D-Fort Worth, and into an Anglo majority district that includes seven rural counties, he said.

Li also questioned changes made to District 22 — centered on Fort Bend County, one of the most diverse suburban counties in America — where the voting age population would rise to 55% Anglo, up from the current 46%. Dismantling a district where rising numbers of Hispanic, Black and Asian voters were able to create voting coalitions “raises many red flags,” he said.

Have I mentioned that the lawyers are going to be busy? I don’t have much faith in the courts, but I believe in the lawyers.

Decision Desk:

Texas gained two Congressional districts through 2020 reapportionment. One district went into Austin, which the GOP previously divided between five Republican districts in 2010. All five ended up as marginal races by 2020. This new Democratic district releases pressure on the five seats allowing them to absorb Democratic voters from other parts of the state. The second new Congressional seat is roughly the successor to the old Seventh district in west Houston, with the new TX-07 traveling between Houston and her suburbs as a new, safe Democratic seat.

TX-03, TX-06, TX-07, TX-10, TX-21, TX-22, TX-23, TX-24, TX-25, TX31, and TX-32 were all potential competitive seats in 2020. TX-15, TX-28, and TX-34 became competitive because of newfound Republican strength among South Texas Hispanics. All but one of the districts are now uncompetitive. Republican Districts gain more Republican voters, and the few Democratic held seats become more Democratic. All of the former Republican suburban seats reach deep into the rural and exurban areas and drop Democratic suburbs. Former rural and exurban seats – TX-04, TX-05, TX-08, TX-13, and TX-36 – reach deeper into the suburbs to carve up Democratic areas. The result is  districts with obtuse borders where the Democrats gained the most voters, such as the north Dallas suburbs with the new TX-04.

In South Texas, past voting rights litigation prevents Republican map-makers from exploiting recent party gains. The resulting districts resemble the present lines and stretch northwards, but the most GOP-favoring Hispanic areas are now congregated in TX-15 which makes it a potential swing district. O’Rourke did win this seat by over 10%, so the district will not be competitive if the 2020 results end up as a one-off occurrence.

Texas mappers still found ways to cater to their protected incumbents. In TX-10, Senior Republican Michael McCaul gets a district that squiggles narrowly around Austin from his neighborhood west of the city to rural Texas. New TX-06 Republican Jake Ellzey’s district takes in more rural areas where he is better known and loses Arlington Republican voters who backed Susan Wright during the 2021 Special Election. TX-25 previously did not include Republican Roger Williams’ base in Weatherford, west of Fort Worth. Now it does.

Republicans also released their proposed Legislative and Board of Education district maps, which can be viewed here. Biden in 2020 and O’Rourke in 2018 won a majority or a near-majority of districts on the former maps for these bodies, so Republican mappers were even more desperate to gerrymander these lines. Both maps protect incumbents in a similar manner to the Congressional plan with the rural and exurban areas reaching into the suburbs. The legislative plans however go beyond incumbent protection and each attempt to carve up a marginally Democratic seat in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. 

The desire to protect incumbents may end up dooming State House Republicans in future years. County nesting requirements prevented the GOP from linking the Republican dominated rural areas to the suburbs. By giving former Biden-District Republicans seats Trump won, other, formerly safe Republican seats needed to take in Democratic voters. Even more districts than previously become marginal districts that could potentially swing heavily away from the GOP.

Voting rights litigation is a constant factor in Texas redistricting. For example, plaintiffs forced Texas Republicans to draw the new Dallas-based TX-33 into a Hispanic Democratic seat in 2010 (initial 2010 map here). This new Congressional gerrymander disadvantages minority communities across the state, especially since nearly all of Texas’s recent growth came from minority groups. The proposed TX-23 is only 60% Hispanic compared to the 80% or higher in other South Texas seats, limiting minority opportunity. TX-27 has several majority Hispanic counties, including the city of Corpus Christi, inside a seat where White voters historically pick the representative. TX-38 could be a second, overwhelmingly Hispanic seat in the Houston area. TX-18 was previously an African American district, but is here majority Hispanic, an example of regression. Fort Worth minority voters are distributed between four Districts and there could be a fourth minority seat in the region. A majority-minority coalition seat can be drawn in the suburbs north of Dallas. Expect this criticism and more to potentially be levied in future court cases.

I suspect he means that only CD15 is competitive, but CD23 is only Trump+7, which seems competitive enough to me. I also think that over time several others will become more competitive as well, if these districts are allowed to go into effect as is. I’m sure there will be changes, and then of course the lawsuits, though as we well know they will take years to resolve. What we eventually get here is what we’re going to have for awhile. The Current and the Trib have more.

Get ready for redistricting

The next special session starts Monday, and we should expect to see proposed redistricting maps. It’s going to be a rough few weeks, in part because the guardrails are gone, which will allow Republicans to run amuck.

The 2020 census captured a Texas that does not exist in its halls of power: a diverse state that is growing almost exclusively because of people of color and where the Hispanic and white populations are nearly equal in size.

But when the Texas Legislature convenes Monday to do the work of incorporating a decade’s worth of population growth into new political maps, the Republicans in charge — nearly all of whom are white — will have a freer hand to cement their power and try to shield themselves from the change that growth represents.

The 2021 redistricting cycle will mark the first time in nearly half a century that a Legislature with a lengthy record of discriminating against voters of color will be able to redraw political districts without federal oversight designed to keep harmful maps from immediately going into effect.

And now, once those maps are enacted, the voters of color and civil rights groups that for decades have fought discrimination in the courts may face a federal judiciary less willing to doubt lawmakers’ partisan motivations — even if they come at the expense of Hispanic and Black Texans.

“I hate to be an alarmist. I want to look for the silver lining, but I don’t see one,” said Jose Garza, a veteran civil rights attorney who has represented the Texas House’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus for a decade. ”I think that this is a time of great opportunity for the Republicans.”

You can read the rest – none of it is unfamiliar. Tensions are already high due to the quorum break plus the general unhinged racism from state leadership. The early word is that State Senators have already seen a draft map, which will be drawn to be 20-11 for the Republicans, a net loss of two seats for the Dems if it works out that way. The Cook Political Report expects the eventual Congressional map to add two Republican seats to the existing total. It’s going to be fun, just wait and see.

All this assumes that the Lege is allowed to draw non-Congressional maps, which remains a matter of dispute.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by two Democratic state senators against Gov. Greg Abbott over his plan to redraw political districts during an upcoming special session of the Legislature.

In a Wednesday motion, the attorney general’s office argued that the lawsuit is “wrong about Texas law” and is “inconsistent with past practice and judicial precedent.” It asks that the lawsuit be dismissed or suspended until after the redistricting process is concluded.

The lawsuit — filed Sept. 1 by Sens. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, and Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio — argues that the state constitution explicitly requires political districts in the state to be redrawn during the first regular session after the publication of the U.S. census.

[…]

The lawsuit argues that a federal judge has the “exclusive obligation” to draw temporary maps to be used in the 2022 elections and that the legislative redistricting process should wait until 2023, when the next regular session is scheduled to occur.

The senators’ “theory — which seeks to exploit delays in the federal census caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — turns the Texas Constitution on its head,” reads the motion from the attorney general’s office. “That provision prescribes what the Legislature must do, but neither it nor any other provision prohibits the Legislature from redistricting at other times when circumstances call for it.”

See here for the background. I have to assume some kind of ruling is close at hand, if only to prevent future messes. I have not seen any indication of a hearing date, however, so who knows. In any event, enjoy your last weekend before new maps get drawn.

It’s not too late to pass a voting rights bill

Look, we have one queued up.

Senate Democrats are close to an agreement on updated voting rights legislation that can get the support of all 50 Democratic-voting senators, three Democratic aides familiar with negotiations said.

The For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act were introduced in Congress in 2019 and 2021, respectively. Since their introductions, both have been voted on along party lines.

The member-level discussions are complete, a source said, but staff members are going through the text to fix technical issues. No further details have been shared.

The legislation would require the votes of 60 senators, including 10 Republicans, and it’s unlikely that Democrats will get enough Republican supporters.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia.

Senators, who return from their August recess this week, face a number of items, such as a voting rights measure and an ambitious infrastructure spending package.

“We’ve been talking to quite a few different Republicans who are very interested in doing something that makes sense,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Manchin said he has been working with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on the issue but didn’t elaborate.

Well, Sen. Murkowski plus fifty Democrats is still well short of 60. Might there be some other option?

With a make-or-break vote looming in the Senate on a sweeping voting-rights and anti-corruption bill, President Joe Biden and his advisers have said in recent weeks that Biden will pressure wavering Democrats to support reforming the filibuster if necessary to pass the voting bill.

According to three people briefed on the White House’s position and its recent communications with outside groups, Biden assured Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he was ready to push for filibuster reform. Biden’s pressure would aim to help Schumer convince moderate Democrats to support a carveout to the filibuster, a must for the party if it’s going to pass new voting protections without Republican votes. According to a source briefed on the White House’s position, Biden told Schumer: “Chuck, you tell me when you need me to start making phone calls.”

The Senate returns to work this upcoming week, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer intends to call a vote on the For the People Act, the most ambitious reform bill in decades and the Democrats’ best shot at countering the wave of state-level GOP voter suppression laws this year. But to get the bill out of Congress, Senate Democrats will almost certainly need to change the filibuster, the procedural tactic used by the minority party to block many types of legislation.

Publicly, there are two centrist Democrats who have stated their opposition to changing or abolishing the filibuster, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Activist groups and fellow Democratic senators say Manchin and Sinema are the likely 49th and 50th votes both on any voting-rights legislation and especially any filibuster reforms. Sources say both senators are likely targets for when Biden launches his final push to pass a compromise version of the For the People Act.

“I think there’s a clear recognition the president will have a role to play in bringing this over the finish line, and if in order to do that, we need [filibuster] rules reform, then so be it,” says Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who helped write the original version of the For the People Act. “I think Joe Biden with his long history and experience in the Senate can see that.”

[…]

Some outside activist groups say Biden and his administration haven’t done enough to make the case for a new voting-rights bill in Congress. “For a long time there was no engagement,” says Fred Wertheimer, president of the government-reform group Democracy 21. Tiffany Muller, president of the anti-corruption group End Citizens United, told Rolling Stone earlier this summer that the lack of urgency from the administration felt even more acute given the energy and organizing happening outside of Washington in support of the For the People Act. “We need that same effort and help (from the Biden administration) on this,” Muller said at the time.

That frustration extended to Biden’s top allies in Congress. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), whose timely endorsement helped rescue Biden’s flailing presidential campaign in early 2020, begged Biden to endorse a filibuster carve-out for voting rights. During a late-July meeting in the Oval Office, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pressed Biden to do more on voting rights; Democrats needed action from him, according to a person briefed on the meeting.

In that Oval Office meeting, the source says, Biden made a pledge: If Pelosi and Schumer tried every option they had to pass a voting-rights bill with Republican votes and got nowhere, Biden would get involved himself and lobby the handful of moderate Democrats to convince them to weaken the filibuster so that the For the People Act could pass without any Republican votes.

Since then, the tenor has shifted in the White House in the last month, multiple sources tell Rolling Stone. The White House has devoted more staff to the issue. More importantly, it has given assurances to outside supporters that Biden now plans to push for filibuster reform when necessary. “They have really engaged in a way that can make a difference both on substance and particularly on process as we get closer to this day of reckoning,” Rep. John Sarbanes says. “They appreciate that the electorate that showed up for Joe Biden in 2020 now wants to see Joe Biden show up for them in 2021.”

Here’s where I shrug my shoulders and mumble something about how I hope Joe Manchin, who is one of the sponsors of the John Lewis Act in the Senate, might prefer to do something to help pass his own bill than let it die by inaction. I have no idea what he’ll do and neither does anyone else, but I do like this theory about what animates a Joe Manchin.

So we have all these theories: Manchin is a crypto-Republican; he’s doing the work of his funders; he and Biden have a secret understanding and it’s all going to work out. My own theory is a bit different. It’s not even my theory. Someone mentioned it to me several months ago. But I can’t remember who. The theory is this: all of Manchin’s actions hold together and make sense if you imagine he got up on a particular day, absorbed the CW of the moment and said the first or second thing that came into his head.

This is admittedly a somewhat diminishing read. But Manchin clearly likes the limelight and he doesn’t pretend to be an ideologue. If you use this framework all the various shifts and turns start to make sense. Manchin is the quintessential Washington player, very much a creature of Washington insider culture with all its shibboleths and conventional wisdoms.

It doesn’t get us any closer to where we need to be, and it doesn’t do anything to keep my head from exploding, but at least it makes some sense. As for the rest, light a candle, throw some salt over your shoulder, avoid stepping on any cracks, and hope for the best. Mother Jones and Daily Kos have more.

Three more lawsuits filed against the voter suppression law

It’s a law now, and the legal machines are humming to do something about it.

Though delayed by Democratic quorum breaks, Texas has officially joined the slate of Republican states that have enacted new voting restrictions following the 2020 election.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 1, sweeping legislation that further tightens state election laws and constrains local control of elections by limiting counties’ ability to expand voting options. The governor’s signature ends months of legislative clashes and standoffs during which Democrats — propelled by concerns that the legislation raises new barriers for marginalized voters — forced Republicans into two extra legislative sessions.

SB 1 is set to take effect three months after the special legislative session, in time for the 2022 primary elections. But it could still be caught up in the federal courts. Abbott’s signature was both preceded and followed by a flurry of legal challenges that generally argue that the law will disproportionately harm voters of color and voters with disabilities.

On top of two federal lawsuits filed last week, three new lawsuits, including one in state district court, were filed Tuesday shortly after it became law.

[…]

The law already faces two legal challenges from Harris County and a coalition of community and advocacy groups that argue SB 1’s rewrite of Texas voting laws creates new hurdles and restrictions that will suppress voters and violates the U.S. Constitution and numerous federal laws.

Abbott’s signature Tuesday drew three more lawsuits that also argue the changes to elections in SB 1 are unlawful because they will disproportionately burden voters of color and voters with disabilities.

“SB 1 is an arduous law designed to limit Tejanos’ ability to exercise their full citizenship,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino, which is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed in Austin on Tuesday. “Not only are we filing suit to protect the right to vote for all people of color, and the additional 250,000 young Latino Tejanos who will reach voting age in 2022, but to protect every Texan’s right to vote.”

Another legal challenge was filed in state district court in Harris County and raises claims that the law runs afoul of the the Texas Constitution, including its protection against racial discrimination.

[…]

As it worked toward getting the legislation across the finish line, the House also made changes Democrats had been pushing for, including requiring training for poll watchers. Republicans also ditched controversial provisions that would have restricted Sunday voting hours and made it easier for judges to overturn elections — both of which they tried to walk away from after Democrats first derailed the legislation in May during the regular legislative session.

Even with some of those changes, a group of plaintiffs in another federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Antonio, including Houston Justice and the Arc of Texas, say the legal intervention was needed to “ensure that the State does not continue to erect barriers” that have both the “intent and effect” of suppressing the votes of marginalized Texans.

“These provisions will harm all Texas voters, but consistent with Jim Crow era tradition, the burdens will be disproportionately borne by Black and Latino voters and voters with disabilities,” the plaintiffs said in their complaint. “S.B. 1 intentionally targets and burdens methods and opportunities of voting used by and responsive to the needs of voters of color, particularly Black and Latino voters, and other vulnerable voters, as evidenced by the 2020 elections.”

There are also questions on whether the U.S. Department of Justice will sue Texas over the new law, as it did Georgia earlier this year after lawmakers there passed a new law to tighten elections.

It remains unclear what, if any, Congressional action could affect the new law.

See here for more on the first two lawsuits. Before I get to the others, let me just say that if the John Lewis Act doesn’t have any effect on the new law, then either the authors of the bill are incompetent or the federal courts really have it in for us. But that assumes the damn thing can overcome the stupid filibuster, so let’s put that question off for later.

For the other lawsuits, here are the basics:

– The first lawsuit referenced is here, and it’s probably best just to print the announcement about it for the relevant details.

Minutes after Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed voter suppression bill Senate Bill 1 into law on Tuesday, voting and civil rights groups sued to challenge the bill’s most disenfranchising provisions. The complaint, filed by LULAC Texas, Voto Latino, Texas Alliance for Retired Americans and Texas AFT, alleges that the new law imposes an undue burden on the right to vote in violation of the First and 14th Amendments, purposely intends to limit minority voters’ access to the ballot box in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and disproportionately impacts voters with disabilities and limited language proficiencies in violation of Section 208 of the VRA. The suit asks the court to prohibit the suppressive provisions from being enforced. This is the third lawsuit challenging S.B. 1, as two cases were filed last Friday before the bill was even signed into law.

The provisions challenged in this lawsuit include: criminalizing public officials’ efforts to encourage the submission of absentee ballot applications; additional ID requirements for absentee voting; the effective elimination of drop boxes, drive-thru voting and 24-hour early voting; new obstacles for voters to receive assistance to vote absentee or in person; and the empowerment of partisan poll watchers.

The complaint argues that the passage of S.B. 1 is in direct response to increased voter turnout in the 2020 election, particularly among voters of color, and is meant to “stem the growing tide of minority voter participation.” The lawsuit argues that “by surgically targeting election practices employed in Texas’s largest and most diverse jurisdictions—methods on which the State’s Black and Hispanic populations disproportionately rely—the [challenged provisions] were intended to disproportionately restrict access to the franchise for Black and Hispanic voters.” Furthermore, the suit alleges that certain provisions place an undue burden on the right to vote for elderly voters, voters with disabilities and voters with limited language proficiencies.

Read the complaint here.

All that is courtesy of Democracy Docket, which had promised litigation the minute that SB1 passed in the House.

– The other federal lawsuit comes from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund:

Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)Reed Smith LLP, and The Arc filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Houston Area Urban League, Houston Justice, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and The Arc of Texas challenging S.B. 1, a new Texas law targeting voting rights.  S.B. 1 includes a series of suppressive voting-related provisions that will make it much harder for Texas residents to vote and disenfranchise some altogether, particularly Black and Latino voters and voters with disabilities.The lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, argues that S.B. 1 violates the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by intentionally targeting and burdening methods and means of voting used by voters of color.

The Plaintiffs also claim that the law violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act by imposing voting barriers that will discriminate against voters with disabilities and deny people with disabilities full and equal opportunities to participate in the state’s voting programs.

The lawsuit challenges multiple provisions in SB 1, including:

  • Limitations on early voting hours and a ban on 24-hour voting.
  • The elimination of drive-thru voting centers.
  • The prohibition of mail-in ballot drop-boxes.
  • Limitations on the distribution of mail-in ballot applications.
  • Limitations and possible penalties for voter assistants, including criminal felonies.

Read the lawsuit challenging S.B. 1.

You can read the press release for statements from the plaintiffs.

– The state lawsuit comes from another group we’ve heard from before.

The Texas State Legislature’s SB 1 legislation violates provisions of the Texas Constitution that protect the right to vote, the right to freedom of speech and expression, the right to due process, and the right to equal protection under law, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by civil rights advocates against Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Kevin Paxton, Deputy Secretary of State Joe Esparza, and the future secretary of state, once that position is filled.

Despite the hardships of voting during a global pandemic, during the 2020 general election, Texas saw one of its highest voter turnouts in decades, particularly among Black voters and other voters of color.  SB 1 was passed on the heels of the successful 2020 election, with the intent to suppress these votes. The legislation includes provisions that expand the power of partisan poll watchers, limit county election officials’ discretion to adopt safe and secure methods of voting, make it more difficult for voters to receive assistance, and place restrictions on absentee ballots, ballot drop boxes, and early voting.

The lawsuit, Texas State Conference of the NAACP et al. v. Abbott et al., was filed in state district court in Harris County, Texas. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Dechert LLP are representing the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, Common Cause Texas, three election judges, one voter assistant, and one registered voter in Harris County.

“The scourge of state-sanctioned voter suppression is alive and well, and Texas just became the most recent state to prove it,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “With the passage of this bill, Texas legislators know exactly what they are trying to do – use brazen tactics to disenfranchise Black voters, Latinx voters, and other voters of color who are a growing part of the electorate and who turned out and made their voices heard in 2020. This bill violates Texas’ own state constitution and does not advance any legitimate state interests that would justify this wide-ranging attack on the right to vote.”

SB 1 expands the power of partisan poll watchers by instituting criminal penalties for election officials who obstruct their actions, stripping local election officials of the power to take executive action in emergency situations, and exposing voter assistants to increased surveillance and administrative complexities. Furthermore, the legislation restricts nearly every method of voting overwhelmingly used by voters of color in 2020: It limits early voting and ballot drop boxes, curbs how absentee ballots can be distributed and who can vote by mail, and bans drive-thru voting. While the provisions of SB 1 will hinder the ability of all Texans to vote, these new restrictions intentionally and disproportionately impact communities of color.

“Texas’s new voting restrictions targeting voters of color are an affront to our democracy,” said Neil Steiner, partner with Dechert LLP. “We remain committed to ensuring that all eligible voters have a true opportunity to participate in our elections by casting a ballot safely, securely and conveniently, with confidence that their votes will be counted.”

I have only given a brief glance to each of these lawsuits – as you know, I Am Not A Lawyer, I just occasionally try to interpret lawyer-y things on the Internet for other non-lawyers. All of them are quite long and will take me some time to try to understand. I do not offhand know why this one was filed in state court, or why that might be a more promising avenue for redress. That has been a successful tactic in some other states, mostly but not entirely for the battle against partisan gerrymandering, but as far as I know it has not been used in this context here before, other than the unsuccessful challenges to Texas’ age restrictions for voting by mail in the runup to the 2020 election. It’s worth a shot – let a thousand flowers bloom and all that – but I cannot articulate a reason why this way and not that way. If someone else can, I’d love to hear it. I will make an effort to read through these documents and try to answer that myself, but you know how that goes. The Current, the Texas Signal, and the Chron have more.

The tab for voter ID

Impressive.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas remains responsible for nearly $6.8 million in legal fees and costs owed to the collection of parties who sued over its voter ID law.

Though the state ultimately won the long-winding fight to keep the voter ID law on the books, a panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court ruling that found the state is on the hook for that sum — the last vestige of the legal battle over the 2011 restrictions the state set on what forms of photo identification are accepted at the polls.

The Texas attorney general’s office had appealed that lower court ruling, which found the plaintiffs in the litigation — Democratic U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, individual voters, voting and civil rights groups, the NAACP-Texas and the Texas House’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus, among others — were the “prevailing parties.”

“It seems obvious that they are,” the 5th Circuit judges on Friday. “Plaintiffs successfully challenged the Texas photo ID requirement before our en banc court, and used that victory to secure a court order permanently preventing its enforcement during the elections in 2016 and 2017.”

Just a quick recap, the original voter ID law that was passed in 2011 was ruled to have had discriminatory intent by a district court judge in 2014, but the Fifth Circuit allowed it to stand while the appeal was made. Both the three-judge panel and the full Fifth Circuit ultimately upheld the district court ruling, but as it was close to the 2016 election by then, a modified version of the law that mitigated some of the harm was implemented. After the 2017 Lege codified those changes, the law was challenged again, and despite another ruling by the same district court judge that the law was still discriminatory, this time the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the state, and here we are now. (Yes, SCOTUS was involved in both of these cases, but this has gone on long enough.) The state may press on again with this appeal, but at this point it would seem unlikely they’d win. Perhaps by now we have had more than enough money spent on this cursed thing.

First two lawsuits filed against the voter suppression bill

No time wasted.

The top elections official in Harris County and a host of organizations that serve Texans of color and Texans with disabilities have fired the opening salvos in what’s expected to be an extensive legal battle over Texas’ new voting rules.

In separate federal lawsuits filed in Austin and San Antonio, the coalition of groups and Harris County sued the state over Senate Bill 1 before it was even signed into law, arguing it creates new hurdles and restrictions that will suppress voters and unconstitutionally discourage public officials and organizations from helping Texans exercise their right to vote.

The lawsuits claim the legislation violates a broad range of federal laws — the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — and the First, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

“Egregiously, SB 1 takes particular aim at voters with disabilities, voters with limited English proficiency — who, in Texas, are also overwhelmingly voters of color — and the organizations that represent, assist, and support these voters,” the plaintiffs in the Austin lawsuit wrote in their complaint.

The plaintiffs in the San Antonio lawsuit,, which includes Harris County, also raise claims that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color in pushing the legislation.

[…]

The plaintiffs attack head on the lack of evidence that fraud is a widespread problem in Texas elections.

In the San Antonio lawsuit, they argue SB 1’s “additional burdens and restrictions” cannot be justified by invoking “unspecified and unproven voter fraud” when there is no proof that it occurs “beyond the very few examples already identified through Texas’s pre-existing processes and procedures.”

“Rather … SB1 is a reaction to Texas’s changing electorate, which is now more racially diverse and younger than ever before,” they wrote in their complaint.

The claims raised collectively in both lawsuits are as expansive as the legislation is far-ranging.

They include claims on SB 1’s new restrictions on voter assistance, including the help voters with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency are entitled to receive. The plaintiffs point to the reworked oath that a person assisting a voter must recite, now under penalty of perjury, that no longer explicitly includes answering the voter’s questions. Instead, they must pledge to limit their assistance to “reading the ballot to the voter, directing the voter to read the ballot, marking the voter’s ballot, or directing the voter to mark the ballot.”

As part of its claims of intentional discrimination, the lawsuit that includes Harris County as a plaintiff also calls out SB 1’s prohibition on the drive-thru and 24-hour voting initiatives used by the diverse, Democratic county in the 2020 election — both of which county officials said were disproportionately used by voters of color.

SB1 also makes it a state jail felony for local election officials to send unsolicited applications to request a mail-in ballot. Several counties proactively sent applications to voters 65 and older who automatically qualify to vote by mail, but Harris County attempted to send them to all 2.4 million registered voters last year with specific instructions on how to determine if they were eligible.

In outlawing those voting initiatives, Republican lawmakers made it clear they were targeting the state’s most populous county, even though other counties employed similar voting methods.

“My first and only priority is to educate and help voters to lawfully cast their ballots,” Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said in a statement. “Voting by mail is not simply another method to vote — for many senior voters and voters with disabilities, it’s their only option to vote. SB1 makes it a crime for me to encourage those who are eligible to vote by mail to do so, effectively making it impossible to fulfill my sworn duty as Elections Administrator.”

Both lawsuits also argue the constitutionality of a section of SB 1 that creates new a “vote harvesting” criminal offense, which it defines as in-person interactions with voters “in the physical presence of an official ballot or a ballot voted by mail, intended to deliver votes for a specific candidate or measure.” The lawsuits argue the language in that section — and the criminal penalties attached to it — are unconstitutionally overbroad and vague and could serve to quash legitimate voter turnout initiatives.

The lawsuits also challenge provisions of SB1 that bolster protections for partisan poll watchers inside polling places, and new ID requirements for voting by mail.

You can see copies of the lawsuits here for Austin and here for San Antonio. I note that Isabel Longoria, the Harris County elections administrator, is a defendant in her official capacity in the Austin lawsuit and a plaintiff in the San Antonio lawsuit. I assume there’s a technical reason why a county elections administrator is named as a defendant in these actions, but I have no idea what algorithm is used to decide which county and administrator. (The Austin lawsuit also includes Dana DeBeauvoir from the Travis County elections office as a defendant, while the San Antonio lawsuit picks the Medina County admin. Go figure.)

I’m not going to speculate on the merits or chances of these lawsuits, which I assume will eventually get combined into a single action. I expect that they have a strong case, and we know from past performance that the Republicans in the Lege tend to be shoddy and indifferent in their work when they pass bills like these, but none of that really matters. What matters is what if anything the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS deign to find objectionable. For obvious reasons, I’m not going to get my hopes up. I expect the Justice Department to get involved on the side of the plaintiffs, and there’s always the specter of passing the John Lewis Act and making this way easier on everyone. In the meantime, settle in for the long haul, because we know this will take years to come to a resolution. Look to see what happens when (I feel confident saying “when” and not “if”) a temporary restraining order is granted.

Final passage of the voter suppression bill

That’s all for now, we’ll see you in court for what will likely be a frustrating and unsatisfying denouement.

A wave of changes to Texas elections, including new voting restrictions, are headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Three months after House Democrats first broke quorum to stymie a previous iteration of the legislation, Republicans in the House and Senate Tuesday signed off on the final version of Senate Bill 1 to further tighten the state’s voting rules and rein in local efforts to widen voting access. Abbott, a Republican, is expected to sign it into law.

The bill was delayed one more time as its Republican author, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, disapproved of language added by the House to address the controversial conviction of Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman facing a five-year sentence for a ballot she has said she did not know she was ineligible to cast. Hughes’ objection triggered backroom talks to strip the Mason amendment before the bill could come up for a final vote.

[…]

On Tuesday, Democrats decried the Senate’s objection to the Mason amendment, with state Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, stating he hoped it was “not because they believe that more people in situations like that of Crystal Mason should be prosecuted or imprisoned.”

[Rep. Garnet] Coleman and Turner were part of the panel that worked out the final version of the bill in backroom talks. Despite their support for the amendment, House Republicans on that panel also signed off on removing it.

The amendment — offered by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, but worked on as a bipartisan effort — was meant to prevent voter mistakes from being prosecuted as fraud.

“We’re just ensuring that people who do innocent things are not harmed from their past mistakes,” Cain said before it was quickly adopted by the House last Thursday.

Mason was convicted of illegal voting for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election while she was on supervised release for a federal tax fraud conviction. Her vote was never counted, and Mason has said she had no idea she was ineligible to vote under Texas law and wouldn’t have knowingly risked her freedom.

Tarrant County prosecutors pressed forward to land the conviction, which was upheld by a state appeals court that ruled that the fact Mason did not know she was ineligible was “irrelevant to her prosecution.” Her case is currently under review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s court of last resort for criminal matters.

Cain’s amendment would have clarified existing law that currently defines illegal voting as an instance in which a person “votes or attempts to vote in an election in which the person knows the person is not eligible to vote” by emphasizing that a person must be aware of the “particular circumstances that make the person not eligible” and also that “those circumstances make the the person not eligible” to vote.

Mason’s case has played out as Republicans’ baseless claims of rampant illegal voting have intensified. But with lack of widespread evidence, her case has landed among the handful of high-profile prosecutions of people of color.

Mason, who is Black, is appealing her case as the Texas attorney general’s office prosecutes Hervis Rogers, who is also Black, after he was featured in news coverage of the March 2020 primaries for being the last person to vote at Texas Southern University in Houston at 1 a.m. His registration was active even though he was a few months away from completing his parole as part of a 25-year prison sentence for burglary and intent to commit theft in 1995.

Hughes on Thursday said the amendment raised concerns for “people in the building” and “outside the building” that the language could go farther than intended, and noted he believed non-citizens who vote in elections should be prosecuted even if they were not aware they were ineligible. Notably, the Mason amendment could have also affected the state’s prosecution of Rogers, who was charged with two counts of illegal voting.

Hughes also noted the bill still includes language that would require proof beyond a provisional ballot for an attempt to cast an illegal vote to count as a crime.

See here and here for some background. Credit to Briscoe Cain (a phrase I am unlikely to type again anytime soon) but in the end it was more important for the Republicans to keep going after the likes of Hervis Rogers and Crystal Mason because there aren’t any real voter fraud cases for them to tout. Look, either we get the John Lewis Act through the US Senate, or this is our reality until Democrats have full control of state government and sufficient awareness that even the watered down two thirds rule is a trap that (like the filibuster) will not allow them to pass anything of substance. I don’t care to speculate when that might be.

Voter suppression bill passes the House

It was always to be, it was just a matter of when.

After months of drama and political resistance, the curtain has lowered on Democratic attempts to stave off a far-reaching rewrite of the state’s voting laws coveted by Republicans seeking to retain their hold on power in a changing Texas.

One week after finally regaining enough members to conduct business, the Texas House slogged through a 12-hour floor debate Thursday before signing off on a slightly revised version of the Republican legislation that first prompted Democrats to stage a nearly six-week absence from the Capitol. The late-night 79-37 initial vote on Senate Bill 1 moved the state closer to enacting new voting restrictions, including limits on early voting hours and other measures opponents say will raise new barriers for marginalized voters, especially voters of color, who tend to vote Democratic, and those with disabilities.

The House returned Friday to give the bill final approval, 80-41, leaving the House and Senate to resolve their differences before the legislation heads to Gov. Greg Abbott.

“You largely did what you wanted in this bill. You kept changing the bill in the dark, and you backed off agreements we had from time to time that you made with some of us,” state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, told the chamber’s Republicans before the Friday vote. “But make no mistake this is your bill, your idea, and you will be responsible for the consequences.”

Unlike in the spring regular legislative session, the two chambers are much more aligned in their proposals, with the House legislation embracing proposed restrictions it had not included in its previous version of the bill. On Thursday, it further amended various sections of the bill to more closely match the Senate’s version.

You can read the rest for the gory details. One hopes that a whole bunch of crap that was never debated or vetted will not be crammed into the conference committee version of the bill, as it was during the regular session, but as I’ve said before, Dan Patrick gets to have a say in that. There will be litigation, there will be hard questions and hard feelings for the Dems who came back and created the quorum, which was always going to happen eventually but which could and should have been done in a consensus manner, and there will be hope that the filibuster fanatics in the US Senate will figure out the existential nature of this crisis and pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would offer a strong bulwark against this kind of assault. That’s where we are, and now we get to try and stop the rest of the Greg Abbott Primary Campaign Agenda. Have a nice weekend. The Texas Signal has more.

A look ahead to Commissioners Court redistricting

As we know, the Census redistricting data is out, and that means a whole lot of map-drawing is in our future. The main focus on this will be in Austin where the Congressional and legislative maps are re-drawn, but those are not the only entities that have this job to do. Harris County will be redrawing its Commissioners Court map, and this time for the first time in decades it will be done with a Democratic majority on the Court. What might be in store? Benjamin Chou with the Texas Signal provides an advance look at the possibilities.

Over the course of the last decade, population in Harris County boomed, growing by over 630,000 residents from 4.1 million in 2010 to 4.7 million today. Most of the population growth occurred in Precincts 3 and 4, which are also the same precincts currently held by the two Republicans.

In this round of redistricting, the Court will need to tweak the districts so that the four precincts have relatively similar population numbers. For this year’s sake, that means increasing the population in Precinct 2 and decreasing the population in Precincts 3 and 4. To do so, the Democratic-majority can attempt a range of actions that can be simplified into 3 main results: maintain the same 3–2 Democratic majority or increase their majority to 4–1.

The current Commissioners Court map was drawn a decade ago, by the then 4–1 Republican majority. At that time, Republicans held Precincts 2, 3, 4 and the county judge position. The map was drawn with the intent to solidify the Republican 4–1 majority by increasing Republican voters in those three precincts, particularly Precinct 2. The court did so by replacing Hispanic Democratic voters with Anglo Republicans.

They were successful through much of the decade. In the high-Republican turnout year of 2014, Republicans crushed Democrats. Republican Governor Greg Abbott won Precinct 2 by more than 16% of votes and Precincts 3 and 4 by more than 20% each. Even in 2018, when Beto O’Rourke lifted Democratic performance to its most competitive level in a generation, the Republican majority barely crumbled. County Judge Hidalgo, the only one of the five members of the court to be elected county-wide, won by less than 2%. Commissioner Garcia won Precinct 2 by 1%. Last year, when Democrats had a chance to flip Precinct 3, the Democratic candidate lost by 5%.

When considering how to redraw the map, the new Democratic majority will likely keep Precinct 1 solidly Democratic while shoring up Precinct 2 for Commissioner Garcia. The question is whether the court makes Precincts 3, 4, or neither more Democratic so a future challenger has a better chance of ousting the Republican incumbents.

The problem with choosing neither means the Republicans have a chance of flipping the current Democratic 3–2 majority in the event Democrats lose the County Judge position. Similarly, if the Court decides to make only Precinct 3 more Democratic, there remains a risk that Republicans win control because Precinct 3 is not up for election until 2024. Because Precinct 4 is up for election in 2022, the safest bet for Democrats to retain uninterrupted control will be to redraw Precinct 4 more Democratic.

Chou goes on to draw three potential new maps, one that just makes Precinct 2 more Democratic, which would end up with the same Court if Judge Hidalgo wins re-election, and one that shores up Precinct 2 while also turning a radically redrawn Precinct 4 Democratic as well. I’ll let you have a look and see what you think. You can also review this tweet from Hector DeLeon to see the Census population figures for each of the four precincts.

It’s a good writeup, and it captures the choices well. A couple of things that were not directly addressed: One, the Latino drift towards Trump in 2020, which we have discussed before multiple times. We saw that manifest here, though perhaps not as much as in South Texas, but in areas that would affect Precinct 2. Biden carried Precinct 2 in 2020 by a tiny margin, while other Dems generally fell short; in 2018 Beto won Precinct 2 by seven points, while other Dems generally carried it by four or five. For a variety of reasons we don’t know how this will play out in 2022, but we should start with the assumption that Latino voters are a little softer than we’d like, so that we don’t overestimate our position.

Two, we can’t just shove Anglo Republicans into Precinct 1 as a way to aid Precinct 2, because the Voting Rights Act is still more or less in effect, and retrogressing its Black population would be a violation of the VRA. Yes, the thought of a Republican plaintiff filing a VRA lawsuit over this is ironic to the point of causing nosebleeds, but care must still be taken.

Three, as Harris County continues to grow and change demographically, Precinct 3 as it is now will likely become more Democratic in time for the 2024 election without much else being done. Betting on that does entail the risk that the Court could swing Republican in 2022, either via Commissioner Garcia losing or Judge Hidalgo losing. I’m less worried about the latter, and the former can certainly be mitigated against, but this would allow for the possibility of getting to 4-1 without a complete redesign of the county map, which might be controversial politically in ways that are not currently apparent.

It should also be noted that redrawing the Commissioners Court map does the same for the HCDE Trustees map. As it happens, due to resignations and appointments, Dems have a 6-1 majority on that body right now, with all three At Large seats plus the Precincts 1, 2, and 3 positions in their column. I’m certain this will be a lower priority for consideration by the mapmakers, but it is worth keeping in mind.

Beyond that, we’ll see. Commissioners Court is under the same time constraints as the Lege, in that they need to get a new map in place in time for the 2022 primaries, whenever they wind up being. Assuming that will take place in May, and the filing period will be pushed back commensurately, they have a couple of months. Expect to see some action soon – if this is like last time, they’ll hire a consultant to do the actual work, with their specifications, and they will formally approve it once it suits their needs and the public has a chance to weigh in. I will of course be keeping an eye out for this.

Spring Branch ISD lawsuit

I’m late to this, but better late than never/

A former candidate for the Spring Branch ISD school board has filed a lawsuit alleging the district’s election policies are in violation of national laws against voting discrimination.

In her complaint, Virginia Elizondo, a Spring Branch ISD parent who ran for a position on the board in 2015 and 2021, claims that the district’s system of at-large elections violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The complaint was filed by attorney Barry Abrams of Blank Rome LLP with the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of Texas, Houston Division on June 18.

Specifically, it cites the clause in the Voting Rights Act that “prohibits enforcement of any voting qualification, prerequisite to voting, standard, practice, or procedure that results in the denial or abridgement of the right to vote on account of race, color, or language minority status.”

Unlike nearby Houston ISD, which uses zoned elections where each of the nine trustees are elected from a geographic zone, Spring Branch ISD uses at-large elections for each of its seven trustees are elected by the entire district and represent the entire district. Several local districts, such as Humble ISD, use at-large elections.

Elizondo’s lawsuit seeks a court injunction prohibiting Spring Branch ISD from using its at-large system of voting.

The complaint states that “Dr. Elizondo (who has a Doctorate in Education from the University of Houston) has standing to seek relief in this suit as a minority district voter who is experiencing vote dilution because of the SBISD at-large system for electing its Board of Trustees.”

It also cites the fact that, according to demographic information from the Texas Education Agency, of the 33,288 that were enrolled in Spring Branch ISD, 19,335, or about 58 percent were Latino or Hispanic whereas white students made up about 27 percent of the student body.

The complaint claims that the current at-large method of electing trustees “results in the district’s Latino and minority citizens having less opportunity than other members to participate in the electoral process and to elect representatives of their choice.”

I have a copy of the lawsuit here; it was filed in June, and as far as I can tell there has been no action relating to it since. I touched on some of these issues when I wrote about Elizondo’s candidacy in the May election. The SBISD Board of Trustees has posted this response, and a recent school board meeting featured some very rowdy residents who wanted something more forceful. Note the featured photo at the top of the story, with the sign from the protesters that says “Don’t HISD My SBISD”, which says quite a bit more than perhaps the sign holders intended.

I’ve written quite a bit in the past decade or so about single member districts and the places where litigation has been waged to implement them as a way of getting any kind of representation for communities of color. Since I’ve been following this issue, cities like Irving and Farmers Branch and most recently Pasadena were ordered to switch to single member districts or a hybrid system; in all cases, the change has resulted in more people of color being elected, often the first ever people of color elected to the respective City Councils. That’s what is at stake in Spring Branch, though the complaint and the SMD proponents are also advocating for more early voting locations on the north side of I-10 where more than 50% of SBISD students reside, and a robust voter registration program in all SBISD high schools. I expect this will take a couple of years to get to a final resolution, but in the meantime there’s a lot that local activists can do to persuade the existing Board to take action on those other items.

Is it really a quorum?

It is if no one is counting too closely.

Texas House Republicans finally got their long-sought quorum Thursday — by the skin of their teeth.

There were 99 members registered as present Thursday evening, the exact number needed to end the 38-day Democratic quorum break over the GOP’s priority elections bill. But it quickly became clear that some of the 99 members were not physically on the floor and instead marked present by their colleagues.

That means that the House could be operating with a tenuous quorum in the coming days, even if more Democrats start returning — though none were giving any indication of that Friday.

While some Democrats conceded Thursday night that the quorum bust was over, others were less willing to admit defeat.

“Based on numerous media reports, it seems evident there was not a true quorum present today — ironic, given this entire session is premised around Republicans preaching about so-called voter integrity,” Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement.

A group of 34 House Democrats released a statement Friday that called it a “questionable quorum” and warned that Republicans “will lie about the number of legislators present at the Capitol to establish quorum, keep Texans in the dark, and bend the rules to get their way.”

In a follow-up interview, Turner said the apparent lack of a real quorum was “of grave concern.” He declined to speculate on whether the Democratic presence on the floor would grow when the House next meets on Monday.

[…]

If the quorum margin continues to remain on the razor’s edge, Republicans cannot afford to have any absences and would have to continue showing up unanimously or close to it. They proved they were willing to go to those lengths Thursday with the attendance of Rep. Steve Allison of San Antonio, who recently tested positive for COVID-19 and registered as present while isolating in an adjacent room.

Allison tested negative Thursday and plans to be on the floor Monday and the following days that lawmakers are in session, according to his chief of staff, Rocky Gage.

The House can’t do business without a quorum, which is two-thirds of the chamber, a threshold that stands at 100 when all 150 seats are filled. With two vacant seats pending special elections to replace former state Reps. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, who is now in Congress, and Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio, who resigned effective Thursday to work for San Antonio College, quorum threshold is currently 99.

The special election for Ellzey’s seat is Aug. 31, though it could go to a runoff at a later date. And the special election for Pacheco’s seat has not been scheduled yet.

The 99 members that effectively make up the current quorum include all 82 Republicans; 14 Democrats who, before Thursday, had never broken quorum or had already chosen to return to the floor; and three new Democratic defectors who announced their arrival shortly before quorum was met Thursday evening: Houston Reps. Armando Walle, Ana Hernandez and Garnet Coleman.

Without a mass return of the remaining Democrats, reaching a quorum in the coming days could still be a dicey proposition.

That is, of course, if House leadership actually counts how many members are physically present — something they have no incentive to do as they seek to put the quorum break in the past. Any member present can request “strict enforcement” of a vote, which would force a more accurate attendance count, but that did not happen Thursday.

“Who is asking for strict enforcement?” one of the Democrats still breaking quorum, Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, tweeted shortly before the House met and quorum was established.

It is unclear what incentive the members who are showing up have to call for strict enforcement — they are mostly Republicans who are eager to get back to work and move past the quorum break. The same could arguably be said of the Democrats who have been present.

See here for the previous entry. Monday is a hearing day for the voter suppression bill, so if there is going to be a quorum challenge, that would be the day to do it. It’s also possible – likely, perhaps – that more Dems will be there on Monday on the grounds that once the session has begun and business will be conducted, there’s little value in continuing to stay away. At that point, you may as well fight it out in person as best you can. It’s a fight you’ll lose, of course, but the alternative is losing by forfeit. There is definitely a big conversation to be had about why some members decided now was the time to return, but that’s for another day. This is the task at hand. Stace, who focuses on the latest voting rights bill in DC – it is very much not too late to pass that bill, and as an extra added bonus it would defang the Supreme Court and its ability to rubber stamp voter suppression – has more.

We have a quorum

Welp.

For the first time in nearly six weeks, enough lawmakers were present in the Texas House on Thursday for the chamber to conduct business — opening the door for the passage of the GOP priority elections bill that prompted Democrats to flee the state in July in an effort to shut down the legislation.

[…]

Although the House reached the minimum number of lawmakers to conduct official business Thursday, it’s unclear whether the chamber will be able to maintain those numbers for the duration of the second special session, which ends Sept. 5.

The House’s return to regular order was boosted by the return of several Democrats who had opted to stay away during the first special session. Democrats like Rep. James Talarico of Round Rock; Joe Moody, Art Fierro and Mary Gonzáles of El Paso; and Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville had boosted the chamber’s numbers after holding out during the first special session.

On Wednesday night, Houston Democrat Garnet Coleman told The Dallas Morning News that he would be returning to the chamber, bringing the House one lawmaker closer to the 100 lawmakers it needed to conduct business. When San Antonio Democrat Leo Pacheco’s resignation went into effect Thursday, the quorum requirement dropped to 99 lawmakers. (Pacheco is reportedly resigning to teach public administration at San Antonio College).

Houston Democrats Armando Walle and Ana Hernandez joined Coleman in his return Thursday evening, with Walle pushing a wheelchair for Coleman who’d recently undergone surgery on his leg.

In a joint statement, the three Democrats said they were “proud of the heroic work and commitment” their caucus had shown in breaking quorum.

“We took the fight for voting rights to Washington, D.C. and brought national attention to the partisan push in our state to weaken ballot access. Our efforts were successful and served as the primary catalyst to push Congress to take action on federal voter protection legislation,” the statement read. “Now, we continue the fight on the House Floor.”

The lawmakers pointed to the surge in COVID-19 cases in the state, an overwhelmed hospital system and the return of children to school as efforts that the Legislature needed to work on.

“It is time to move past these partisan legislative calls, and to come together to help our state mitigate the effects of the current COVID-19 surge by allowing public health officials to do their jobs, provide critical resources for school districts to conduct virtual learning when necessary, while also ensuring schools are a safe place for in-person instruction, and will not become a series of daily super-spreader events,” the statement said.

Suffice it to say that the reaction I’ve seen from folks on Twitter is not particularly positive to this. I have nothing but respect for Rep. Garnet Coleman, but I don’t understand the thinking here. Maybe it will make more sense in the coming days, but right now you can count me among the puzzled and disbelieving. The Senate has already passed all of Abbott’s bills, so at any time the House will be able to finish the job, and that will more or less be that.

This was going to have to happen sooner or later, it was just a matter of how. I would have preferred it to be a consensus decision, but here we are. There is another voting rights bill queued up in Congress, with our friend Sen. Manchin as a co-sponsor, and while it will get an August vote there’s still no indication that it will get a waiver on the filibuster. Maybe that does pass, and the Texas Dems are cited as an inspiration, and I’ll feel differently. Right now, I’m not sure what was accomplished. The Chron has more.

Meet the new special session

Same as the old special session, at least at first.

It appears likely that not enough Democrats will show up for the Texas House to conduct business when a second special legislative session convenes Saturday.

Some of the more than 50 Democratic representatives who fled Texas to foil the first special session began trickling out of their Washington, D.C., hotel and heading home Friday. But 27 members have committed to staying in the nation’s capital. At the same time, Democrats were working to confirm that at least 50 members will pledge to not return to the House floor on Saturday even if they are back in Texas.

If that happens, the chamber would again be deprived of a quorum to conduct business for at least a few days. And it could set up a showdown over whether House Speaker Dade Phelan has the authority, and political will, to compel Democratic representatives in Texas to show up at the Capitol.

The ongoing absences would further delay any consideration of the 17-item agenda Gov. Greg Abbott has set for the 30-day special session, including a contentious voting bill, which Republicans have vowed to pass into law, that motivated Democrats to leave the state last month. Two-thirds of the 150 member chamber must be present to conduct business. One seat is currently vacant.

“If you’re looking for us to telegraph exactly what we’re going to do over the next couple days, we’re not going to do that at this time,” state Rep. Chris Turner, the Democratic caucus chair, said earlier in the day. “The governor would love us to do that, but we’re not going to.”

The House Democratic caucus would not confirm any details about its next move as of Friday evening after marking the last day of the first special session that was derailed after 57 members broke quorum.

The number of Democrats actually in Washington had appeared to dwindle to about 40 members over the last few days. But with 27 Democrats planning to stay behind, even some of the Democrats seen departing from their hotel in Washington on Friday indicated the House floor may not be their destination.

[…]

“If Congress is in session, we’re in session,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said earlier in the day. “Our job is here, and we will have a significant number of members staying here and waiting day by day, engaging day by day, finishing the fight.”

Well, we’ll see. We ought to know early on what the head count is. In one of the earlier stories I saw, it was noted that the Republicans are also not quite at full strength, as some are on vacation or otherwise not available – Jake Ellzey is now in Congress, so right there they’re down one – and that means they need that many more Dems to show up to get to 100. We don’t know if Speaker Dade Phelan is going to follow through on the threat to use DPS to hunt down wayward Dems in the state and drag them to Austin. We may eventually get a quorum, but it won’t happen right away.

Later on Friday, this happened.

Twenty-two Texas House Democrats sued some of the state’s top Republican leaders in federal court in Austin late Friday, alleging that GOP officials’ efforts to bring them home for a special legislative session infringed on their constitutional rights to free speech and to petition the government for redress of grievances.

The lawsuit was filed on the final day of the first special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott — and on the eve of a second specially called legislative session — and names as defendants Abbott, House Speaker Dade Phelan and State Rep. James White.

[…]

It’s unclear why White was listed as a defendant. White said Friday night he was not aware he’d been sued or why he was named as a defendant. The lawsuit also did not use Phelan’s legal name, which is Matthew McDade Phelan.

Abbott and Phelan did not immediately have a statement on the lawsuit.

The Democrats’ attorney, Craig Anthony Washington, a former Democratic lawmaker, did not respond to a request for comment. Washington is practicing law under a probationally suspended license, according to the State Bar of Texas.

The lawsuit alleges that some Democrats are being targeted because of their race and skin color, but then provides no evidence.

It also claims the three Republican lawmakers acted together under the “color of law” to cause the harm alleged in the suit, but then points no specific harmful actions other than “public statements.” The lawsuit also says some individual plaintiffs experienced “retaliatory attacks, threats and attempts at coercion relating to the exercise of their First Amendment rights” but again does not provide specifics.

The plaintiffs listed in the case are state Reps. Senfronia Thompson, Trey Martinez Fischer, Gene Wu, Vikki Goodwin, Ron Reynolds, Eddie Rodriguez, Jon Rosenthal, Jasmine Crockett, Mary Ann Perez, Alma Allen, Christina Morales, Nicole Collier, Celia Israel, Ana-Maria Ramos, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Terry Meza, Donna Howard, Jarvis Johnson, Ray Lopez, Shawn Thierry, Elizabeth Campos and Gina Hinojosa.

The lawsuit alleges that the three Republican lawmakers have attempted “by public statements and otherwise, to attempt to deny, coerce, threaten, intimidate, and prevent” the Democrats and their constituents from voting in all elections, petitioning the government for redress of grievances, speaking publicly about their constitutional rights, exercising their right of association and their right to not being arrested without probable cause. The Democrats allege that in acting together, the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to deprive them of their constitutional rights.

Because of the defendant’s actions, the complaint alleges, the plaintiffs have been “deprived of liberty for substantial periods of time, suffered much anxiety and distress over separation from their families, and much discomfort and embarrassment.” They also have suffered damages to their reputations and have had to spend time traveling to Washington to lobby Congress to pass laws that would protect voting rights.

That sounds pretty unlikely to me, even without the issues noted for attorney Craig Washington. You can read a copy of the lawsuit and come to your own conclusions, but this seems like an extreme longshot. And as to why Rep. White was named as a defendant, my guess is it stemmed from his request for an AG opinion suggesting that the quorum-breaking Dems had “vacated” their seats. Even if you could count on Ken Paxton’s office to give an honest answer, that seems like a big escalation of the stakes.

And in other desperation moves, there’s this.

Texas Republican leaders said Friday they were extending “an additional month of funding” for the Legislature as a deadline to reinstate those dollars vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott nears, which could cost some 2,100 state workers their salaries and benefits.

The announcement Friday by Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan comes a day ahead of the beginning of a second special session, where it’s still unknown whether enough state lawmakers in the lower chamber will convene in time to restore the funding long term.

[…]

Citing an emergency, the Legislative Budget Board requested the transfer of funds, according to a memo dated Aug. 6 from Abbott responding to the LBB’s proposal. Funds amounting to at least $12.6 million will be transferred from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to the Senate, the House, and legislative agencies such as the LBB, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Reference Library.

Abbott referenced his veto in that memo, reiterating his position that “funding should not be provided for those who quit their jobs early and leave the state with unfinished business, exposing taxpayers to higher costs for additional legislative sessions.”

“However, in order to ensure the Legislature is fully resourced to do the work of the next special session,” he wrote, “I recognize that the partial restoration the Legislative Budget Board had proposed is necessary.”

The extension announced Friday means that those legislative employees and legislative agencies will have funding intact through Sept. 30 instead of Sept. 1, when the next two-year state budget takes effect.

I thought the LBB could only meet when the Lege was not in session, which is certainly was on Friday. If this is all it took, then why not act sooner? And why not free up more money? This has the feel of something half-baked, though I suppose if no one challenges it in court there’s nothing to stop it. And hey, even if someone does challenge it in court, the Supreme Court will just sit on it until the matter becomes moot anyway, so what difference does it make? We’re off to a roaring start here, that’s for sure.

Special session 2.0 coming right up

Here we go again.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that the second special legislative session will begin at noon Saturday — and with an expanded agenda.

The 17-item agenda still includes well-known Abbott priorities like the election bill that caused House Democrats to flee the state at the start of the first special session, which ends Friday. But it also features six additions, including the spending of federal COVID-19 relief funds and potentially changing the legislative rules regarding quorums.

[…]

The start of the second special session is approaching amid continued uncertainty over the fate of paychecks for over 2,100 legislative staffers. Abbott vetoed their pay after House Democrats staged a walkout over the elections bill in the regular session that ended in May, and the funding was set to start Sept. 1.

The reinstatement of that funding remains on the agenda for the second special session.

The new items on the call also include legislation to protect Texans from radioactive waste and to change the timeline for the 2022 primary elections. The latter item is likely a nod to the fact that the primaries will have to be pushed back due to delays in the redistricting process.

The item on changing the rules around quorums comes after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called on Abbott to add something like it to the agenda for the second special session. The lieutenant governor wants to lower the threshold for each chamber to conduct business from two-thirds of members to a simple majority. That would require a state constitutional amendment and thus a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

As for education during the pandemic, Abbott is asking lawmakers to pass legislation that “in-person learning is available for any student whose parent wants it.” He also wants legislation that ensures that masks and vaccinations are not mandatory in schools, which he has already ordered through executive action.

Not anything here that would make it more enticing for the Dems to come back, that’s for sure. The item about changing quorum rules is cute, but if it needs a 2/3 vote to pass as a constitutional amendment, I would not expect it to go anywhere, for all the obvious reasons.

What will the Dems do? They haven’t said yet, and as before I don’t know. Looking back, they didn’t get a voting rights bill passed, not that anyone could have expected that, though it’s fair to say there’s a lot more pressure being applied on President Biden and the Senate Dems to make that happen. Perhaps the new “Right to Vote” bill by Sen. Ossoff has a chance – it wouldn’t address everything – redistricting reform would be a key omission – but it would help. As expected, between the infrastructure bill and the January 6 committee hearing and our national fruit fly-level attention span, they’re getting maybe one percent of the press coverage they got when they first left, but again, I don’t know what could have changed that. They successfully killed off the first session, and for the most part the Republicans have been able to do little but sputter and post the occasional juvenile photo on Instagram, so I’d call this a draw. A draw that still inevitably ends with them back in Texas and the odious bills they have been able to stop so far getting passed anyway. Again, it was always going to be this way, barring a miracle from Sens. Manchin and Sinema.

Two other points: One is that redistricting data is soon to arrive.

Ideally for the Republicans, they breeze through this session, finish up all the business they want to get done, then get a short break before embarking on this much more involved task. They want to get to this quickly to foreclose even the minimal possibility of a federal voting rights bill that includes preclearance and redistricting reform being enacted. The ideal scenario for Dems is less clear to me, but running more time off the clock so that the original special session items have to take a back seat to this is probably better than what I just laid out as being best for the GOP. In short, the best outcome is still bad unless there’s some federal action to mitigate the damage.

As for restoring legislative funding, the Quorum Report posted an item just before the new special session was announced that suggested the possibility of the Legislative Budget Board moving some money around to fix that problem. Unfortunately, the LBB can only meet when the Lege is not in session – the QR report speculated that they would have this weekend to do that, with Special Session 2.0 being called for Tuesday – so that is off the table. That means that either the Dems show up and the Lege fixes it, the Supreme Court rules that Abbott’s veto was unconstitutional (AS THEY SHOULD ANYWAY), Abbott himself uses his emergency powers to plug the hold he dug, or the funding runs out and who knows what happens to redistricting. You know that sequence from “Animal House” where the Deltas have sabotaged the marching band and the parade they were in has devolved into chaos? That’s the energy I’m getting from all this now. I’ll leave it to you to decide who Bluto and Niedermeyer are in this analogy. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: More here from the Trib, reiterating that House Dems have not committed to a specific action just yet.

The march for voting rights

Good work, but it can’t be the end.

Saturday marked the third time in as many months that former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has headlined a voting rights rally at the Texas Capitol, as Democrats hope to keep momentum with just a week left before the end of the special session in Austin.

The rally, which drew several thousand attendees, marked the end of a Selma-style march to the state Capitol — a roughly 27-mile journey from Georgetown to Austin that activists split over four days. It was organized by the Poor People’s Campaign, a group inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.

As demonstrators finished the last leg of their march, they greeted a crowd in front of the Capitol holding signs: “Texas deserves better,” “It’s about us,” “We care, we vote.” They sang along with the performers on the center stage as they belted out the labor movement anthem, “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

“The right time to do right is right now,” the Rev. William J. Barber II, a national civil rights leader who spearheaded the march, repeated throughout the rally.

It culminated with a live performance by Willie Nelson, who sang the classics “Whiskey River” and “Good Hearted Woman.” His set ended with a newer song, “Vote ‘Em Out,” which opens with the line: “If you don’t like who’s in there, vote ‘em out; that’s what Election Day is all about.”

The marchers have demands ranging from a $15 minimum wage to immigration reform, but their most pressing concern is new voting restrictions that have been proposed or passed in GOP-led states. Texas, which already has some of the nation’s strictest laws on voter registration and mail ballots, is among them.

Lots of positive energy came out of this, and I hope it helps to sustain us through the next few weeks, which are going to be tough. But really, what I want to see next are headlines that say things like “Senate Democrats agree to pass voting rights bill that includes redistricting reform and new preclearance requirements”, and “Beto O’Rourke announces his entry into the Texas Governor’s race”. I’m not asking for much here.

Day 17 quorum busting post: Testify

Ladies and gentlemen, Ms T.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson described to a U.S. House committee on Thursday occasions in 2010 and 2012 when white Republican poll watchers showed up at a Houston polling place where she and many other Black voters cast ballots.

“They had people that looked like they was from the Proud Boys looking at you like you were in the wrong place,” the Houston Democrat testified. “In a minority area, that has a chilling effect. The word gets out that these people are at your polls looking at you like they want to arrest you, keep you from voting.

“You’re damn right I left Texas, and I’m glad I did,” Thompson said. “I left Texas to give my people a right to be able to vote without them being infringed upon.”

It was one of several instances in which Texas Democrats detailed the ways they say Republican-backed legislation would make it harder for minorities to vote. Republicans, meanwhile, said the Texas Democrats were exaggerating the effects of the bill and should be back in Austin debating it in the Legislature, not complaining about it to Congress.

[…]

Three Texas Democrats — Thomspon, San Antonio state Rep. Diego Bernal and Dallas state Rep. Nicole Collier — gave impassioned testimony to the House panel as they urge Congress to advance new federal voting laws to head off GOP efforts in Texas and other states.

The congressional hearing also brought a bit of news: U.S. Rep. Pat Fallon, a Sherman Republican, said his colleagues in Texas informed him they would remove a provision from the proposed legislation that would require voters applying to vote by mail to include a driver’s license number or social security number that they used when registering to vote.

“That speaks well for coming to Washington,” said U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. “You made a little bit of progress.”

It all made for a big day for the more than four dozen Democrats who have drawn a national spotlight and met with a slew of their party’s leaders since their arrival in D.C. three weeks ago. The group left Texas earlier this month to break quorum in the state House and stop Republicans from passing new voting restrictions.

That’s what they’re there for, to make this not only real but timely for the Washington Democrats. And maybe, just maybe, there’s some hope on the horizon.

Senate Democrats have been crafting a revised voting rights bill that Sen. Joe Manchin might deign to vote for, particularly since he is in the group that’s working on it. The Rev. Sen. Raphael Warnock asked Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to convene the group to rewrite the bill, he told The Washington Post, and he, Schumer, Manchin and a few other senators met Wednesday. Further, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are meeting with President Joe Biden on Friday to discuss moving forward on voting rights, perhaps before August recess.

“It’s important that the American people understand that this is very much on our radar, and we understand the urgency, and we’re committed to getting some progress,” Warnock said. Manchin added, “Everybody’s working in good faith on this … It’s everybody’s input, not just mine, but I think mine, maybe … got us all talking and rolling in the direction that we had to go back to basics,” he said. Other Democrats in the meeting included Sens. Alex Padilla of California; Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, who is lead sponsor of the For the People Act in the Senate; and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, chair of the committee in charge of the bill.

A Democrat who did not wish to be named told the Post that the bill would largely follow the proposal for revisions Manchin put forward last month. It could also potentially include language to strengthen the Voting Rights Act, restoring provisions gutted by recent Supreme Court decisions. It’s not clear now whether it would incorporate the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or just some provisions from it. That bill hasn’t been acted on in the House yet.

The same source also told the Post that it could include language to counter “election subversion”—specifically the kind of action the Republican legislature in Georgia is trying to pull by taking over the duties of elections officials in the state’s largest—and most Black—county.

As I said before, getting a federal voting rights bill passed would be the big, ultimate slam-dunk win for the legislative Dems. This may be the best opportunity yet, if it can get that crucial buy-in to not let the stupid filibuster be the roadblock. But time is running out, at least for our Dem legislators. The special session is nearly over, both chambers of Congress are fixing to go on recess, and then there’s also this:

If you want there to be preclearance, then you have to have it in place before the new maps get drawn. Leadership is aligned, but the Senate is as always the bottleneck. Keep pushing, it won’t happen on its own.

Day 3 not as long omnibus quorum busting post

Let’s jump right in…

Who’s paying for Texas Democrats’ trip to DC? Beto O’Rourke has already raised $400K.

Beto O’Rourke’s political action committee has raised nearly half a million dollars to support Texas Democrats’ escape to Washington, D.C., he said Tuesday night.

O’Rourke, a former El Paso congressman and possible 2022 candidate for governor, has been soliciting donations for the Democrats on Twitter since they fled to the nation’s capital on Monday. It’s the second time House Democrats have broken quorum in about six weeks to kill a controversial elections bill championed by Texas’ GOP leaders.

The PAC, Powered By People, has raised more than $430,000 so far, O’Rourke said.

“Up to them to use it for whatever keeps them in the fight for as long as it takes,” he said.

The 60 or so fugitive Democrats have repeatedly said that no taxpayer dollars are funding the expenses for their stay in Washington, which could last as long as Aug. 7, the end of the special session in Austin. Legislators have been using campaign funds and personal funds, they said.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said he paid for the first night of hotel rooms and meeting spaces for the group on Monday.

The effort has garnered national attention, and some celebrities have joined the fundraising push. Texas icon Willie Nelson and his wife, Annie, matched $5,000 in donations on Tuesday.

The Trib also covered this topic. Greg Abbott has been out there claiming the Dems are using taxpayer funds for this journey, which is nonsense. As I said up front, of course this is going to be a fundraising opportunity for the Dems, partly because firing up the base is a key component and partly because they’re going to need it. It’s pretty simple.

Behind the partisan drama lies a profoundly serious struggle over who gets shut out under Texas voting laws.

The dramatic exodus of Democratic Texas lawmakers to block a Republican voting bill has choked the political airways in a haze of confusion, posturing and finger-pointing.

But beneath the smoke, a fire rages.

Many Democrats, especially those who are people of color, are incensed, seeing the latest Republican voting bill as another moment of crisis in a state they believe has long marginalized people like them in the halls of power.

Many Republicans, passions stoked by unsubstantiated claims of widespread voting fraud, see their hold on political power slipping away, and are clamoring for a firewall.

The struggle over voting rights in Texas goes beyond the legislative theatrics of the moment. It is fundamentally a clash not just of elected officials, but of the two constituencies they represent. It is a fight over whose voices will be heard that began long before the Democrats shut down the Texas Legislature, and the stakes are not trivial.

The two days preceding the Democratic flight offered a microcosm of the standoff.

[…]

In the lead up to their quorum break, Democrats appeared frustrated at Republicans’ lack of consideration for the fallout voters of color could face from their proposals. Throughout the legislative debates, they’ve repeatedly pressed GOP bill authors on whether they’ve sought disparate impact studies to assess if their new voting rules would disproportionately harm voters of color. (Republicans have consistently responded they have not.)

But Democrats’ retort since fleeing the state — that their actions are an extreme but necessary effort at safeguarding their own communities from the Republicans in charge of the state — have underlined the reason behind their destination.

Conceding they don’t have the sufficient numbers to block the Texas legislation indefinitely, they have thrust their fight onto the national stage in hopes of helping increase pressure on Congress to pass federal legislation to restore sweeping protections for voters of color.

“Texas’ generations-long pattern of discrimination is not in the past; it is alive and present today in the anti-voter bills before the Texas State Legislature,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said in a statement about the quorum break. “This is part of a calculated and deliberate Republican plan to chip away at the freedom to vote and to choose our leaders.”

Their remarks echoed the series of federal court rulings in recent years that found state lawmakers have repeatedly and intentionally discriminated against voters of color, often by diluting the power of their votes in selecting their representatives.

The high-stakes fight in Congress centers on a pair of federal bills, including one that could place Texas, and other states with a history of discrimination against voters of color, back under federal supervision of its election laws and redistricting.

For decades, that oversight — known as preclearance — proved to be a powerful mechanism for keeping Texas laws and political maps from going into effect until the Department of Justice or a federal court ensured they wouldn’t undermine the voting rights of people of color.

Before it was wiped out by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, preclearance forestalled the adoption of the state’s 2011 redistricting maps before they were revised by the federal courts. It also kept Texas from immediately implementing its stringent voter ID law, which was eventually slightly rewritten as a result of the legal intervention over the way it targeted Hispanic and Black voters who were less likely to have the one of the IDs that were not required to cast a ballot.

Texas Democrats have been able to easily align their efforts with calls for the restoration of those protections because they would wholly benefit the voters of color that are in the majority in most of their districts. Republicans’ political base is more likely to be made up of older, white Texans, while Democrats rely on a more diverse electorate with huge vote counts coming in from the state’s urban metros.

A lot of this is going to be about attention and headlines and winning hearts and minds and news cycles, but at the core there’s a serious policy issue, and Dems are giving it the level of commitment they believe it deserves. I hope that’s one of the messages that gets through to lower-information voters.

‘We are in a state of crisis’ Texas Black faith leaders speak against voter suppression legislation.

In a press conference on Tuesday highlighting Texas Republicans latest push on voter suppression bills, Black faith leaders from across the state asked Gov. Greg Abbott for a meeting to discuss voting legislation.

In addition to the meeting, leaders also asked constituents to participate in the Push Democracy Forward and the Austin Justice Coalition Prayer and Justice March on Voter Suppression at the steps of the Austin Capitol on July 15.

According to Dixon, buses will be provided in cities across the state for constituents who want to participate in the march.

“Texas is headed toward a dangerous tipping point,” Bishop James Dixon, President of the Houston chapter of the NAACP said. “We are indeed a state and a nation in crisis.”

The Black clergy said they are hoping to provide spiritual and moral leadership in the community regarding voting rights.

“We intend to make it clear that this issue is more than political,” Dixon said. “People are being misunderstood and the truth is being misrepresented.”

Dixon also said the Black clergy will be sending an open letter to non-Black clergy colleagues to meet and stand in solidarity.

“We all read from the same Bible thus we should be able to stand together for justice,” Dixon said.

Furthermore, Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III said Austin is the new Selma.

“We’re coming to Austin to say Texas, America, you must be born again,” Haynes said. “Voter suppression and democratic subversion taking place in Texas is a result of an addiction to the big lie and it’s connectected to the terrorist sedition of Jan. 6.”

Not much you can say to that except “Amen”.

Scenarios: Where Texas Dems go from here.

Texas Democrats made national news this week when they once again denied a quorum in the state legislature, preventing the Texas House from conducting business and thus preventing the passage of an egregious voter suppression bill.

So what happens next? Democrats have some options here.

1. LOBBYING TO PASS FEDERAL VOTING RIGHTS LEGISLATION
In flying to D.C. to break quorum, Democrats are continuing their work in a different forum. Their presence expresses urgency to President Biden, Senator Schumer, and Speaker Pelosi to use their majorities to pass federal voting rights legislation.

This is bigger than just Texas, because what we’re seeing in the Lone Star State is what we also saw in state legislative chambers around the country – Donald Trump’s claim that he lost the election due to unsubstantiated voter fraud, also known as “The Big Lie,” has become the basis for voter suppression laws around the country.

Things like limiting the number of polling places in cities but not in rural areas, limiting access to vote by mail, limiting voting hours, criminalizing clerical errors on voter registration cards, allowing judges to overturn elections simply based on claims and not evidence, and empowering partisan poll watchers to interfere with balloting are some of the more egregious efforts in these bills.

Democrats must use their national leverage to protect our free and fair elections, and neither Donald Trump nor state legislatures should be allowed to stifle those elections.

Door #2 is “Keep delaying the special session”, perhaps until the Supreme Court settles the legislative funding veto; Door #3 is “Republicans can negotiate”; and Door #4 is “Democrats return, nothing changes”. We don’t want to open Door #4.

That’s all for today. Tune in tomorrow when I may do another one of these.

Day 2 quorum busting omnibus post

Gonna round up a few stories here. Don’t know how often I’ll be this energetic, or how often there will be this many stories that I see that are worth commenting on, but it is Day Two. We’re just getting started, and there’s lots of people still paying attention.

The cops are almost certainly not coming for the wayward Dems. I mean, come on.

A showdown in the Texas House was locked into place Tuesday after the chamber voted overwhelmingly to send law enforcement after Democrats who left the state a day earlier in protest of a GOP priority elections legislation.

More than 50 House Democrats left Monday for Washington, D.C., to deny the chamber a quorum — the minimum number of lawmakers needed to conduct business — as it takes up voting restrictions and other Republican priorities in a special session.

That agenda, set by Gov. Greg Abbott, includes House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1, the election legislation at hand that would make a number of changes to Texas’ voting system, such as banning drive-thru and 24 hour voting options and further restricting the state’s voting-by-mail rules. Over the weekend, both House and Senate committees advanced the election bills.

The impact of the House move is unclear since Texas law enforcement lacks jurisdiction in the nation’s capital.

Meeting shortly after 10 a.m., the House quickly established that it lacked the two-thirds quorum required to do business, with only 80 of 150 members participating in a test vote.

Then Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, chair of the House Administration Committee, moved to issue what is known as a “call of the House” to try to regain quorum. That motion passed 76-4. Metcalf offered another motion, asking that “the sergeant at arms, or officers appointed by him, send for all absentees … under warrant of arrest if necessary.” That motion also passed 76-4.

Metcalf’s motions were opposed by four Democrats who were present on the House floor Tuesday morning: Reps. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, Tracy King of Batesville, Eddie Morales Jr. of Eagle Pass and John Turner of Dallas.

Axios noted Greg Abbott on Fox News shaking his fist and threatening arrest as well. It’s noise – remember, a big part of this is about the PR for both sides – and in all honesty, it’s what I’d do in the Republicans’ position. Let’s just say I will be extremely surprised if anyone is met at the airport by police on the way back.

If 58 Dems went to DC, then there were nine who did not. We know four of them, at least, and they make sense – Guillen and Morales represent districts carried by Trump in 2020, King’s district trended redder in both 2016 and 2020, and Turner is not running for re-election. I’ll be interested to see who the others are. Everyone will have their reasons for their choices, and bear in mind that family responsibilities may well be among those reasons.

The Chron adds a few tidbits.

Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, asked [Speaker Dade] Phelan on the floor Tuesday whether Democrats could be removed from committee chair positions for breaking quorum. The speaker said they could not.

Morales, whose gargantuan district spans an area from Eagle Pass nearly to El Paso, said he chose to stay in Texas because he believes it was what his constituents, who tend lean more conservative even among Democrats, wanted from him.

“I felt, and I think what my constituents expected, was for me to be in the Capitol, to make sure that I’m fighting for their rights, and that I fight in opposition to this voter suppression,” he said. “Everyone can fight and they can fight differently. My way of fighting is being here because that’s what my constituents expect.”

Morales said it is clear Democrats would be “steamrolled” when the Republican majority did not give them 24 hours after a House committee hearing this weekend to offer amendments based on the testimony they heard.

“It was just fanfare. They had no intention of actually working and actually coming to play and actually making those modifications necessary to the bill,” he said. “ That is why Democratic leadership decided to take the actions that they did.”

Morales said he expects that Phelan will allow members who ask permission to be excused to leave the chamber on an individual basis. He’ll need to do so to be at work at his day job as a city attorney on Tuesday night.

The process of asking for permission to leave the chamber will likely be repeated every day.

Troopers will now go to the missing members’ homes in their districts and in Austin, and places of work and family and friends’ houses, Morales said.

The Texas Senate, meanwhile, had a quorum of 22 members and was expected to debate its version of the voting bill later Tuesday.

The home visits were a part of the 2003 walkouts as well. You never know, someone might try to sneak home for some reason.

The bit about the Senate having a quorum feels a little surprising even though it obviously isn’t. I don’t know how much incentive Senate Dems have to do anything other than screw around and try to make trouble as they can. As for the likely death of other bills, well, that was priced into the decision to break quorum.

Bills to restrict pretrial release from jail, ban critical race theory in schools and prohibit transgender public school students from competing on teams that correspond with their gender identity were up in the air after dozens of Democratic lawmakers chartered flights to Washington, D.C. But their departure also left in jeopardy more widely-supported measures, like giving more money to retired teachers and restoring vetoed funding for more than 2,100 legislative employees who could potentially go without paychecks starting in September.

[…]

Beside bills on voting and bail, other Republican priorities that are now in danger during Abbott’s 30-day session include efforts to stop social media companies from blocking users for their viewpoints, limiting pill-induced abortions and adding money for policing efforts at the Texas-Mexico border. But the governor also tagged lawmakers to tackle less partisan issues — like adding funds for foster care, property-tax relief and retired teachers. On Monday, he slammed Democrats for leaving those on the table.

One piece of legislation would provide what is known as a “13th check” to retired teachers across Texas. The bills would direct the Teacher Retirement System of Texas to distribute a one-time supplemental payment of up to $2,400 by January of next year.

Committees in the House and Senate unanimously advanced the legislation Friday in some of the earliest committee votes of the special session.

Tim Lee, executive director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association, said its members “desperately need help,” especially after the economic stresses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think there are mixed feelings,” Lee said of the potential demise of the 13th check proposal due to Democrats leaving the state. “I think that educators care about voting rights, educators care about the truth, they care about working together and compromising and listening — so that’s what they hope both sides of this policy spectrum will ultimately yield, that people will work together.”

As far as legislative employees — who earn a median salary of $52,000 per year — some staffers and a legal representative said there may be other ways to pay the employees of elected officials and those who help all lawmakers write bill drafts and provide cost estimates for legislation.

Lawmakers could potentially roll over money from the current fiscal year, if they have any, to pay their staffers. Or the Texas Supreme Court may rule in favor of the employees and House Democrats in a lawsuit arguing Abbott’s veto was a gubernatorial overreach. And Abbott has used his emergency power to move money around before, as he did by directing the transfer of $250 million from Texas prisons to a border wall down payment.

For Odus Evbagharu, chief of staff to state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, the onus to restore his and his colleagues’ wages is on Abbott.

“I don’t believe it’s on the House Democratic Caucus to answer for that. I think that’s going to be an answer that Governor Abbott’s gonna have to answer himself,” Evbagharu said. “My best guess is you hope he doesn’t further punish staff for decisions that lawmakers are making.”

Most of these bills are garbage, and their death (however fleeting) is a bonus as far as Dems are concerned. The legislative funding issue is entirely on Abbott for his temper-tantrum veto, and I hadn’t even thought about him using emergency powers to override himself. That’s if the Supreme Court doesn’t settle this, AS THEY SHOULD. The extra paycheck for teachers is a genuine shame, but it could be handled in any subsequent special session.

Again I want to emphasize, Greg Abbott has the primary responsibility here. He pushed these divisive, red meat issues, he called the special session to try again on the ones that failed, and he broke all precedent by vetoing the legislative funding. This is his mess.

One thing, though, seems clear: this comes at a very bad time for Governor Greg Abbott, who was already having a pretty bad week. Abbott is facing, so far, three challengers to his right in the Republican primary for governor. The charge from his Republican opponents is that he’s feckless and weak. The quorum break, which is designed to deny passage of one of his priority pieces of legislation, fits neatly into a narrative that he is getting outfoxed by an ostensibly powerless Democratic opposition. That the narrative is largely untrue—Democrats certainly believe they got the shaft this session—doesn’t matter much.

If the crisis resolves by offering concessions to the exiled Democrats, or otherwise weakening the bill, Abbott will catch hell. The best case for him is to “break” the Democrats and win the fight, but taking a hard line could also prolong the crisis. At first, messaging from his camp was uncharacteristically soft, perhaps because it’s not clear what he could say. In a statement Monday, Abbott said Democratic absences were standing in the way of “property tax relief” and other issues, a sign that the governor’s office was uncomfortable centering the election bill that’s the problem here. On Tuesday, he started talking tough, threatening them with arrest and “cabining” in the Capitol if they return to Texas, but both those threats reflect his underlying powerlessness. The main talking point so far, at least on social media, is that the Democrats brought beer with them.

[…]

Abbott’s predicament is one he seems uniquely unfit to solve. Unlike his predecessor, Rick Perry, he has never had much in the way of personal relationships with lawmakers. He has no credibility with Democrats to coax them back. But even Republican legislators don’t trust him very much. Abbott did not help the situation with his decision after Democrats walked out on the last day of the regular session to veto funding for the Legislature in retribution. He is holding Republican staffers and state employees hostage in order to coerce Democrats back to the chamber. That may make Abbott look “tough,” but hurting your allies to spite your enemies isn’t sensible politics.

The one thing Abbott does have going for him here is that the Dems will eventually come back, one way or another, and he will always have to call at least one more special session to deal with redistricting. He could just decide to wait and let the Dems figure out what they’re doing and mostly ignore them until they return. I don’t think he’ll do that, but he does do best when he mostly stays out of sight.

Whatever Abbott does or doesn’t do, things are happening in the Senate.

As Democrats fled the state to avoid voting on a GOP priority elections bill that would restrict voting rights in the state, the Texas Senate approved the bill Tuesday with a party-line vote of 18-4.

[…]

[Bill author Sen. Bryan] Hughes amended the bill to drop requirements for curbside voting that troubled advocates for people with disabilities. The original version of the bill required any person other than the voter using curbside voting to leave the car while the voter was casting their ballot.

Hughes removed that provision to “avoid confusion and not create hardship for anyone with a disability.”

Another amendment by Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, was intended to bring the bill into compliance with federal laws on voter assistance. It removed provisions from the bill that required people assisting voters to specify under oath how they were providing assistance to a voter and that they were doing so because the voter had a disability.

Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, also amended the bill to allow for tents to be used as temporary polling places if a regular polling place sustained physical damage that rendered it unusable. The permission would only grant the temporary permission for one election and would have to be approved by a county commissioners court.

Another amendment by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, required poll watchers to be provided training manuals to educate them about their duties.

Note that eight Senate Democrats are also in DC, with a ninth on the way. That’s not enough to break quorum in the Senate, so on they go with that wretched business.

Meanwhile, what are the Dems trying to accomplish? I’ll give you a hint, it has to do with that other Senate.

At a press conference Tuesday in Washington, DC, the group of Democrats specifically called on Biden and Congress to demonstrate “the same courage” they had shown by traveling to the nation’s capital during a special legislative session that had been called by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has since threatened to arrest the more than 50 Democrats who fled. As they did in a statement confirming their plans to boycott the session before hopping aboard two private planes on Monday, the group once again hailed both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act as examples of model legislation for protecting voting rights at the federal level and implored Congress to pass them.

“We were quite literally forced to move and leave the state of Texas,” Texas Rep. Rhetta Bowers said in a press conference flanked by some of her fellow state Democrats. “We also know that we are living right now on borrowed time in Texas. And we can’t stay here indefinitely, to run out the clock, to stop Republican anti-voter bills.” Bowers said that although Texas Democrats would use “everything in our power to fight back,” they ultimately needed Congress to act with the same urgency.

“We are not going to buckle to the ‘big lie’ in the state of Texas—the ‘big lie’ that has resulted in anti-democratic legislation throughout the United States,” Rep. Rafael Anchia added.

[…]

Tuesday’s press conference came hours ahead of President Biden’s much-anticipated speech on voting rights in Philadelphia, where he’ll make a forceful condemnation of Republican efforts to enact voter suppression laws. His message, however, is not expected to include support for ending the Senate’s filibuster rules, which advocates say stand in the way of passing meaningful protections for voting rights.

They did get to meet with numerous key Senators, though not yet the two that hold this legislation in their hands. As Slate’s Christina Cauterucci puts it for when and if they do, what the Dems have is an emotional appeal.

The emotional appeal may be the only route left for [Rep. Senfronia] Thompson, her colleagues, and other Democrats who see this moment as a turning point for U.S. democracy. Manchin and Sinema already have all the facts. They’ve shown no willingness to budge. Now, they’ll have to tell a crowd of fugitive Texan legislators singing a civil-rights protest song that their extreme measures to protect the franchise will be for naught.

Like I said yesterday, that is the ultimate grand prize. I hope it has better odds than a Powerball ticket.

Finally, Houston Matters spoke to State Reps. Penny Morales Shaw, who is in DC, and Garnet Coleman, who is not because of health issues, though he is not in Austin. They also spoke to US Rep. Lizzie Fletcher about the subject, for which a YouTube clip is here. And here is the note I think we can all agree it would be best to end on:

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

SCOTUS takes another knife to the Voting Rights Act

The red carpet for voter suppression has been rolled out.

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld two Arizona voting restrictions that a lower court had said discriminated against voters of color.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the opinion in the 6 to 3 ruling, which divided the court along ideological lines. Voting rights experts said the decision could make it harder to challenge some of the new voting restrictions being passed by state legislatures around the country. The Texas Legislature is expected to convene next week to consider legislation that would impose new restrictions on voting.

The court was considering the shield provided by the Voting Rights Act (VRA), first passed in 1965 to forbid laws that result in discrimination based on race.

The cases involved two voting regulations from Arizona that are in common use across the country. One throws out the ballots of those who vote in the wrong precinct. The other restricts who may collect ballots cast early for delivery to polling places, a practice then-President Donald Trump denounced as “ballot harvesting.”

I would advise you to read Slate, Vox, Rick Hasen, The 19th, and Daily Kos for the analysis and effect. The short answer is that there’s nothing in the Republicans’ way, and any subsequent court action will be really hard to win. I wish I had something more positive to say, but here we are. The challenge remains the same – we have to win enough elections to pass the laws we want to pass, and repeal the crap that needs to be thrown out. It’s just going to be harder to do now.

Justice Department sues Georgia over its voter suppression law

Good to see.

In its first major action to combat GOP voter suppression laws, the Biden Justice Department announced on Friday that it is suing the state of Georgia over its new voting restrictions. The lawsuit was first reported by Mother Jones.

“Today the Department of Justice is suing the state of Georgia,” Attorney General Merrick Garland announced at a press conference at the Justice Department headquarters.

The lawsuit challenges a number of provisions of the law, including a ban on election officials sending unsolicited mail ballot request forms to voters, a shorter period of time for voters to request absentee ballots, new voter ID requirements for mail ballots, restrictions on the number of mail ballot drop boxes, a ban on giving out food and water to voters in line, and throwing out provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

Gov. Brian Kemp has said “there is nothing Jim Crow” about the Georgia law, enacted in March, but it includes 16 different provisions that make it harder to vote and that target metro Atlanta counties with large Black populations.

The lawsuit is being overseen by Kristen Clarke, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Vanita Gupta, the associate attorney general—two longtime civil rights lawyers with extensive records litigating against new restrictions on voting.

[…]

The Supreme Court’s 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act means that states with a long history of discrimination—including Georgia—no longer need to get their voting changes approved by the federal government. Since that decision, 26 states have enacted new restrictions on voting, according to an analysis by Mother Jones published on Friday. Garland said Friday that if not for that Supreme Court ruling, “it is likely that SB202 would have never taken effect.”

If successful, and assuming that SCOTUS doesn’t use this as an opportunity to gut the Voting Rights Act further (or that they haven’t already by then), this could put Georgia back under preclearance. And the stakes are obviously higher than that. You can easily see the parallels between Georgia’s SB202 and Texas’ SB7, which will get a new number in the special session. AG Garland has announced his intention to make the defense of voting rights a top priority for the Justice Department, and this is the down payment on that promise. It seems very likely that the Texas bill will end up as another installment, unless somehow the bill tanks again or gets watered down to the point where Dems can reasonably shrug and move on to the next fight. Yeah, I don’t think either of those things will happen, either. Daily Kos and the Current have more.

They’re coming back

Brace yourselves.

Gov. Greg Abbott has set a special session of the Texas Legislature starting July 8, his office announced Tuesday.

Abbott’s office did not specify what legislative priorities will be included on the special session agenda and said in an advisory that such items “will be announced prior to the convening of the special session.”

Abbott has already said that he plans to ask state lawmakers to work on two priority elections and bail bills that died in the final hours of the regular legislative session after House Democrats walked out of the chamber. More recently, Abbott has said the agenda for the Legislature’s overtime round will also include further restricting in schools the teaching of critical race theory, which refers to an academic discipline that explores the role racism plays in institutions and structures of governance.

The GOP priority elections bill, known during the regular session as Senate Bill 7, was a sweeping piece of legislation that would have created new limitations to early voting hours and curbed local voting options like drive-thru voting, among other things.

It’s unclear what tweaks, if any, will be made to the bill during a special session. After the Legislature adjourned in May, some Republicans said they planned to change at least one controversial provision in the bill that dealt with the window for early voting on Sundays. The last-minute addition to the bill had raised concerns that it would harm get-out-the-vote efforts by Black churches.

Abbott’s other priority legislation that died, known as House Bill 20 during the regular session, would have made it harder for people arrested to bond out of jail without cash. That bill was also killed after House Democrats broke quorum to block passage of SB 7.

Lawmakers were already expected to return to the Legislature this calendar year for a special session focused on redrawing the state’s political maps and doling out billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds. Abbott has said that special session will happen sometime in September or October.

We knew this was coming, and we knew that SB7 in some form would be the main item of interest. I don’t know as I write this if the usual suspects in the US Senate will get their shit together and pass a federal voting rights bill that may include some form of preclearance, but it is very much in the political interests of Texas Republicans to pass SB7 before that happens. They definitely have the advantage of being able to move more quickly, but that could at least theoretically end at any time. For sure, they wouldn’t want to wait until the redistricting session for that.

One presumes that the restoration of legislative funding that was vetoed by Abbott will be addressed. I hope that this announcement spurs on the advance of any litigation over that veto, if indeed there was litigation in the works. I Am Not A Lawyer, but I’d bet that the Texas Supreme Court would be delighted to dismiss any such lawsuit on the grounds that it is moot if that matter has been resolved legislatively by the time they have it dumped on them. As to what else may be on the call, we’ll have to wait and see. For sure, every wingnut who didn’t get their pet bill passed will ask for it to be added. As long as the Lege remains in session, Abbott can add more items as he sees fit.

Which leads to another thing to consider:

Another question hanging over state lawmakers is whether Democrats plan to again break quorum to prevent the passage of an elections bill during a special session. A number of House Democrats have said that all tools are on the table with regards to a special session strategy, including potentially leaving the state to help block the legislation.

“It’s no secret that that’s something that’s been effective in the past,” state Rep. Rafael Anchía, a Dallas Democrat who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, during an interview last week on CNN.

I think another Killer Ds scenario is unlikely, but who knows? As with the walkout that led to the quorum break in May, we won’t know till it happens. For what it’s worth, this was Rep. Anchia’s initial reaction to the news on Twitter:

Make of that what you will.

The Texas Dem legislators and the push for federal voting rights legislation

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.

The voting location restrictions of SB7

As Michael Li said on Twitter, this is breathtaking, and not at all in a good way.

The number of Election Day polling places in largely Democratic parts of major Texas counties would fall dramatically under a Republican proposal to change how Texas polling sites are distributed, a Texas Tribune analysis shows. Voting options would be curtailed most in areas with higher shares of voters of color.

Relocating polling sites is part of the GOP’s priority voting bill — Senate Bill 7 — as it was passed in the Texas Senate. It would create a new formula for setting polling places in the handful of mostly Democratic counties with a population of 1 million or more. Although the provision was removed from the bill when passed in the House, it remains on the table as a conference committee of lawmakers begins hammering out a final version of the bill behind closed doors.

Under that provision, counties would be required to distribute polling places based on the share of registered voters in each state House district within the county. The formula would apply only to the state’s five largest counties — Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis — and possibly Collin County once new census figures are released later this year.

A comparison of the Election Day polling locations that were used for the 2020 general election and what would happen under the Senate proposal shows a starkly different distribution of polling sites in Harris and Tarrant counties that would heavily favor voters living in Republican areas.

In Harris County — home to Houston, the state’s biggest city — the formula would mean fewer polling places in 13 of the 24 districts contained in the county, all currently represented by Democrats. Every district held by a Republican would either see a gain in polling places or see no change.

Take a moment and let that sink in, and then go to the story to look at the table. Thirteen Democratic districts would lose a total of 73 voting locations (two others, HDs 135 and 149, would add thirteen), while seven Republican districts would add 59 locations (HDs 128 and 129 would have no change). It doesn’t get any more blatant than this.

For election administrators in the targeted counties, the forced redistribution of polling places would come shortly after most of them ditched Election Day precinct-based voting and began allowing voters to cast ballots at any polling place in a county. Many Texas counties have operated under that model, known as countywide voting, for years, but it has been taken up most recently by both blue urban metros and Republican-leaning suburbs.

“It was unexpected to find language that ties voting locations to where you live exactly in the [same section of state] code that says you can vote wherever,” said Heider Garcia, the elections administrator for Tarrant County, which made the switch to countywide voting in 2019.

While SB 7 targets the state’s biggest counties that use countywide voting, the more than 60 other Texas counties that offer it — many rural and under Republican control — would remain under the state’s more relaxed rules for polling place distribution.

In urban areas, a formula based on voter registration will inherently sway polling places toward Republican-held districts. House districts are drawn to be close to equal in total population, not registration or voter eligibility. Registration numbers are generally much lower in districts represented by Democrats because they tend to have a larger share of residents of color, particularly Hispanic residents — and in some areas Asian residents — who may not be of voting age or citizens. That often results in a smaller population of eligible voters.

But in selecting voting sites, counties generally mull various factors beyond voter registration. They consider details like proximity to public transportation, past voter turnout, areas where voters may be more likely to vote by mail instead of in person and accessibility for voters with disabilities. In urban areas in particular, election officials also look to sites along thoroughfares that see high traffic to make polling places more convenient. Some of the Republican districts that would gain polling places under the proposed formula are situated toward the outskirts of a county or along the county line, while the Democratic seats losing voting sites are closer to the urban core.

“It’s much more than throwing darts at a board,” said Isabel Longoria, the Harris County election administrator. “There’s a lot of parameters that go into choosing a location. It’s not based on partisanship or what House district you’re in but really what will provide access to voters historically, socially, culturally, transportation-wise and everything in between.”

Counties like Harris must also confront historic and racist underdevelopment in communities that are home to large populations of people of color, particularly historic Black communities. In some suburban areas, Longoria posited, the county will be able to use a large high school gymnasium or community center where it can set up 20 to 30 voting machines, but in a historically Black neighborhood, they may need two smaller locations.

Emphasis mine. Again: couldn’t be more blatant. This is exactly the sort of thing that the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act would have stopped, because it would have had to be reviewed before it could be implemented. Bill author Sen. Bryan Hughes claims that this is just about ensuring that partisan election officials in these counties can’t favor some voters over others, but when the end result is this ludicrously tilted in a partisan direction, it’s impossible to take that seriously.

As noted in the story, SB7 was greatly changed in the House and is now in conference committee, where no one really knows what will emerge. It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone with sufficient influence in that committee will advocate for leaving this provision on the cutting room floor, but we won’t know until they emerge with a finished product. And once the bill, in whatever form, becomes law, the litigation will begin.

Census apportionment numbers are in

Texas will gain two seats in Congress, which is one fewer than had been expected based on population growth estimates.

Texas will continue to see its political clout grow as it gains two additional congressional seats — the most of any state in the nation — following the 2020 census, the U.S. Census Bureau announced Monday.

Thanks to its fast-growing population — largely due to an increase in residents of color, particularly Hispanics — the state’s share of votes in the U.S. House of Representatives will increase to 38 for the next decade. The new counts reflect a decade of population growth since the last census, which determines how many congressional seats are assigned to each state. Texas is one of six states gaining representation after the census. The other five states are each gaining one seat.

The 2020 census puts the state’s population at 29,145,505 — up from 25.1 million in 2010 — after gaining the most residents of any state in the last decade. More detailed data, which lawmakers need to redraw legislative and congressional districts to reflect that growth, isn’t expected until early fall. But census estimates have shown it’s been driven by people of color.

Through 2019, Hispanics had accounted for more than half of the state’s population growth since 2010, a gain of more than 2 million residents. And although it makes up a small share of the total population, estimates showed the state’s Asian population has grown the fastest since 2010. Estimates have also shown the state’s growth has been concentrated in diverse urban centers and suburban communities.

With its gain of two seats, the state’s footprint in the Electoral College will grow to 40 votes. But Texas will remain in second place behind California for the largest congressional delegation and share of Electoral College votes. California is losing a congressional seat but will remain on top with 52 seats and 54 votes in the Electoral College. The other states losing seats are Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Florida, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will each gain one seat.

[…]

Texas ultimately fell short of the three congressional seats it was projected to gain based on population estimates. Census Bureau officials on Monday indicated the state’s 2020 population count was slightly lower — a difference of about 1% — than the estimates.

In the lead-up to the census, Republican Texas lawmakers shot down any significant funding for state efforts to avoid an undercount in the 2020 census, leaving the work of chasing an accurate count to local governments, nonprofits and even churches. Texas is home to a large share of residents — Hispanics, people who don’t speak English, people living in poverty and immigrants, to name a few — who were at the highest risk of being missed in the count.

I’ve been blogging about this for a long time, so go search the archives for the background. We’ll never know if some effort from the state government might have yielded a higher population count, but other states with large Latino populations like Florida and Arizona did not get the apportionment gains they were expected to, while New York only lost one seat and Minnesota didn’t lose any. California grew by over two million people over the past decade, by the way, but its share of the total population slipped, and that cost it a seat. Yes, I know, it’s crazy that the US House has the same number of members it has had since 1912, when each member of Congress represented about 30,000 people (it’s about 760,000 people now), but here we are.

The Chron goes into some more detail.

“We’ll have to wait for more granular data, but it certainly looks like the Texas Legislature’s decision not to budget money to encourage census participation combined with the Trump administration efforts to add a citizenship question cost Texas a congressional district,” noted Michael Li, an expert on redistricting who serves as senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Census Bureau officials said Monday they were confident in the results, noting the state’s actual population was within 1 percent of the estimates.

The new population figures come as lawmakers in Texas prepare to redraw political boundaries, including for the state’s congressional delegation, which will remain the second-biggest in the nation as it adds two more members, for a total of 38. That trails California, which is set to lose a seat for the first time in state history, and will have 52 members.

Republicans will control the redistricting process and are expected to use it to reinforce their control of the delegation.

[Mark] Jones at Rice University said the party now just has to decide how safe or risky it wants to be with the new seats. Republicans can play it safer by tossing the new districts to Democrats while shoring up GOP votes in the 22 seats they hold now, which would keep them in control of the delegation. Or they could use the new seats to break up Democrat districts and try to gain ground.

[…]

Li expects the two additional seats to bring “demands for increased representation of communities of color, which will be at odds with the party that will control redistricting.”

Li said chances are high that the maps Texas Republicans draw will end up in court for that exact reason, something that has happened each of the last five decades.

“That’s almost a certainty,” Li said. “Every decade, Texas’s maps get changed a little or a lot because it’s never managed to fairly treat communities of color.”

Of course, we have a very hostile Supreme Court now, and no Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. It would be very, very nice if the Senate could find a way to pass the two big voting rights bills that have been passed by the House, but until that happens we’re looking at a lot of sub-optimal scenarios. I’ve been saying what Prof. Jones says here, that the approach the Republicans take will depend to a large degree on their level of risk aversion, but never underestimate their desire to find advantage. There will be much more to say as we go on, but this will get us started. Daily Kos, Mother Jones, and the Texas Signal have more.

First major vote suppression bill passes

Nothing’s going to stop them.

Senate Republicans on Thursday cleared the way for new, sweeping restrictions to voting in Texas that take particular aim at forbidding local efforts meant to widen access.

In an overnight vote after more than seven hours of debate, the Texas Senate signed off on Senate Bill 7, which would limit extended early voting hours, prohibit drive-thru voting and make it illegal for local election officials to proactively send applications to vote by mail to voters, even if they qualify.

The legislation is at the forefront of Texas Republicans’ crusade to further restrict voting in the state following last year’s election. Though Republicans remain in full control of state government, Texas saw the highest turnout in decades in 2020, with Democrats continuing to drive up their vote counts in the state’s urban centers and diversifying suburban communities.

Like other proposals under consideration at the Texas Capitol, many of the restrictions in SB 7 would target initiatives championed in those areas to make it easier for more voters to participate in elections.

The bill — deemed a priority by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — now heads to the House for consideration after moving rapidly through the Senate. Just two weeks after it was filed, a Senate committee advanced it Friday. That approval followed more than five hours of public testimony, largely in opposition over concerns it would be detrimental to voters who already struggle to vote under the state’s strict rules for elections.

While presenting the bill to the Senate, Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes said the legislation “standardizes and clarifies” voting rules so that “every Texan has a fair and equal opportunity to vote, regardless of where they live in the state.”

“Overall, this bill is designed to address areas throughout the process where bad actors can take advantage, so Texans can feel confident that their elections are fair, honest and open,” Hughes said.

In Texas and nationally, the Republican campaign to change voting rules in the name of “election integrity” has been largely built on concerns over widespread voter fraud for which there is little to no evidence. More recently, Texas Republican lawmakers have attempted to reframe their legislative proposals by offering that even one instance of fraud undermines the voice of a legitimate voter.

[…]

While questioning Hughes, Democratic state Sen. Carol Alvarado of Houston referenced an analysis by Harris County’s election office that estimated that Black and Hispanic voters cast more than half of the votes counted at both drive-thru sites and during extended hours.

“Knowing that, who are you really targeting?” Alvarado asked.

“There’s nothing in this bill that has to do with targeting specific groups. The rules apply across the board,” Hughes replied.

See here for the previous update. Note the very careful language Hughes used in his response to Sen. Alvarado. The Republican defense to the eventual lawsuits is that these laws aren’t targeting voters of color in any way. They’re just plain old value-neutral applies-to-everyone restrictions, the kind that (Republican) Supreme Court Justices approve of, and if they happen to have a disparate impact on some voters of color, well, that’s just the price you have to pay to make Republicans feel more secure about their future electoral prospects ensure the integrity of the vote.

It’s the poll watchers provision that is easily the worst of this bill.

Although videotaping in polling locations in Texas is prohibited, under a bill that passed the Texas Senate just after 2 a.m. on Thursday, partisan poll watchers would be allowed to videotape any person voting that they suspect may be doing something unlawful. But poll workers and voters would be barred from recording the poll watchers.

History has shown this is likely going to lead to more Black and Hispanic people being recorded by white poll watchers who believe they are witnessing something suspicious, advocates warn.

“It’s designed to go after minority voters,” said Gary Bledsoe, the president of the Texas NAACP.

Not so, says State Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Republican from Mineola. He said the recordings by poll watchers will give officials a way to resolve disputes at polling locations especially related to potential voter fraud.

“They are the eyes and ears of the public, and if a dispute does arise about what happened, what was said, what was done, the more evidence we can have the better,” Hughes said of the provision within his Senate Bill 7, which includes a number of measures to restrict voting access in the name of preventing fraud.

But to Black and Hispanic leaders, the legislation is a replay of the voter intimidation from the 1960s and 1970s. After the voting rights acts of the 1960s were passed, Domingo Garcia, the national president of LULAC, said law enforcement in some counties in Texas would take pictures of Hispanics and Black voters at polling places and then try to deliver those pictures to their white employers or others in the community to get them in trouble.

“It was a form of voter intimidation then, and that’s what this would be now,” Garcia said.

What makes SB 7 even more dangerous is who it is empowers to make recordings, Bledsoe said.

Poll watchers are volunteers chosen by candidates and parties to observe the election process. They do not undergo background checks and are not subject to any training requirements.

As such, they could quickly become a sort of vigilante force, Bledsoe said. He said many times Republican poll watchers are sent from other parts of the community into Black and Hispanic precincts and may not even be familiar with the neighborhoods where they would be allowed to record people trying to vote.

“This is intimidating as all get out,” he said.

Shortly after midnight Thursday in a marathon hearing, Hughes amended the bill to bar poll watchers from posting the videos on social media or sharing them with others except for the Texas Secretary of State.

If you can’t see the potential for abuse here, I don’t know what to tell you. Others have pointed out that voters who have been the victim of domestic violence would certainly feel intimidated by having a stranger video them. This is giving unvetted people with a motive to cause trouble a lot of power and no accountability. That’s a recipe for disaster.

There’s not a lot more to say about this that I haven’t already said, so let me reiterate a few things while I can. There’s been more corporate pushback on the Georgia law, but we’re still very short on attention for what’s happening in Texas, not to mention the rest of the country. At this point, merely condemning the suppressionist bills is insufficient. If you actually believe in the importance of voting, then put your money where your mouth is and take action to vote out the officials who are trying to take it away from so many Americans. Senator Hughes is right about one thing – this anti-voting push from him and his fellow Republicans did in fact begin before the 2020 election. All the more reason why the elected officials doing the pushing do not deserve to have the power and responsibility they have been given.

Sen. Borris Miles gave a speech on the floor thanking Sen. Hughes for “waking the beast”, and I do think bills like this will have a galvanizing effect for Democrats and Democratic leaners. As I’ve said before, I think the practical effect of this law will be more negative to the Republican rank and file than perhaps they expect. Democrats took advantage of voting by mail in 2020, but that’s not their usual way of voting, and the restrictions that SB7 imposes, as Campos notes, is going to hurt those who are most used to voting by mail, who are generally Republicans. I believe as much as ever that Democrats should campaign in 2022 on a promise to make it easier and more convenient to vote. This law, to whatever extent it is allowed to be enacted, will hurt, but how much and in what ways remains to be seen. That’s the risk of reacting so forcefully to an anomalous event – it’s easy to go overboard and do things you didn’t really intend to do. We’ll see how it plays out. The Texas Signal has more.

UPDATE: This is a good start.

American Airlines Statement on Texas Voting Legislation

Earlier this morning, the Texas State Senate passed legislation with provisions that limit voting access. To make American’s stance clear: We are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it. As a Texas-based business, we must stand up for the rights of our team members and customers who call Texas home, and honor the sacrifices made by generations of Americans to protect and expand the right to vote.

Voting is the hallmark of our democracy, and is the foundation of our great country. We value the democratic process and believe every eligible American should be allowed to exercise their right to vote, no matter which political party or candidate they support.

We acknowledge how difficult this is for many who have fought to secure and exercise their constitutional right to vote. Any legislation dealing with how elections are conducted must ensure ballot integrity and security while making it easier to vote, not harder. At American, we believe we should break down barriers to diversity, equity and inclusion in our society – not create them.

Via Patrick Svitek, who also posted the super pissy response it drew from one of Abbott’s mouthpieces and from Dan Patrick. More action is needed, but we have to start somewhere.

UPDATE: Also good:

Via the Trib. Keep ’em coming, but don’t forget the need for action.

Republicans want to ban voting at night

Give me a break.

Chris Hollins

Texas Republicans have made it clear that voter suppression is a legislative priority, and one of their biggest targets involves Harris County.

State Rep. Jared Patterson filed a bill last week that would restrict voting hours at early voting locations to between 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. On Twitter, Patterson argued that his bill was filed in response to early voting that occurred in Harris County.

“I filed HB 2293 because of irregularities in Harris County polling hours of operation and the opportunity for voter fraud when no one is looking,” wrote Patterson.

Though many Texas Republicans have claimed the 2020 election was rampant with voter fraud, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has produced only 16 cases, which all involved incorrect addresses.

In 2020, Harris County utilized a number of innovations to safely increase voter turnout in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight voting locations throughout the city held early voting until 10 p.m. and one day of 24-hour voting. The locations were strategically placed in neighborhoods that were most likely to benefit workers with non-traditional hours.

According to the Houston Chronicle, over 10,000 Harris County residents voted overnight from October 29 to October 30. The former county clerk for Harris County, Chris Hollins noted on Twitter that HB 2293 would impact “first responders, medical professionals, and shift workers.”

Of course, the overnight early voting locations were from the same early voting locations that had operated during the day. Indeed, the ones that had nighttime hours just stayed open past the usual closing times. The allegations of “irregularities” and “fraud” are just shibboleths, meant to demonstrate continued fealty to Donald Trump and the Big Lie of the 2020 election. The purpose of this bill is simply to make voting less accessible. The least they could do is to be honest about that.

This is hardly the only bill to restrict voting – John Coby has rounded up a bunch more, and of course there’s a crap-ton of voter suppression bills in statehouses around the country, with states that President Biden flipped like Arizona and Georgia on the forefront. Democrats can stave off some of this if they can overcome the ridiculous obstacles in the Senate (which include a couple of their own Senators) and pass the two voting expansion bills the House has approved. These bills cover a heck of a lot, and if you want to look at it in a particular way, they’re targeting Texas with these two bills.

“It would be a huge, huge deal for Texas voters,” said Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, a group that supports the legislation. “It’s like having a new Voting Rights Act that would protect the rights of voters, make it fair and equal access to voting here in Texas.”

State lawmakers are now pushing a slew of new restrictions on voting, including bills that would make voting by mail more complicated and would scale back hours for polling places.

The federal legislation would stop those efforts, but its changes to how political boundaries are drawn may have some of the biggest effects on Texas, where Republicans control the Legislature and are expected to draw districts that benefit GOP candidates for the next 10 years as Texas becomes an increasingly competitive state. Texas lawmakers will also be drawing boundaries for two to three more seats in Congress.

The bill would take redistricting out of the hands of lawmakers and create independent panels to draw boundaries — something already in place in several states.

The bill also includes provisions to prevent the drawing of districts to break up communities of color, which could have a big impact on Texas’ increasingly diverse — and Democratic trending — suburbs, said Michael Li, an expert on redistricting who serves as senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

The legislation would create a legal framework to test districts for gerrymandering and would expedite the legal challenges that are almost certain to follow Texas’ new maps, as well.

“This is the pushback to all the efforts going on in states including Texas to rollback longstanding voter practices,” Li said.

From your lips to Joe Manchin’s ears, Michael. Still, there’s real work to be done here, which very much includes winning enough state offices to pass our own voting rights bills. We know how hard that’s going to be. On the plus side, passing the two federal bills might make Ken Paxton’s head explode, and that should make anyone want to support them.

How Greg Abbott wants to restrict voting

More from that Trib story following the State of the State address.

As part of his State of the State speech, Abbott designated five emergency items, or items that lawmakers can vote on within the first 60 days of session. One of them is “election integrity,” though Abbott did not provide any details in his address. He elaborated in the interview, saying a “starting point” would be wide-ranging legislation from last session that would have made over two dozen changes to election practices, including making it a felony for Texans to vote when they’re ineligible or provide false information on a voter application, even if they do those things unknowingly.

Senate Bill 9, which passed the Senate but never made it to Abbott’s desk in 2019, faced stiff opposition from voting rights groups and some county elections officials, who called it voter suppression masked as a security measure and worried that it would carry stiff criminal penalties for common, innocent mistakes.

When it came to elections, Abbott also said there is a “keen focus on mail-in ballots” and how elections were conducted last year in Harris County. Ahead of the November election, Abbott and other state GOP leaders clashed with the county’s clerk at the time, Chris Hollins, over his plan to send a mail-in ballot application to every registered voters in the county, among other proposals.

In recent months, many Republicans have called for “election integrity” measures after former President Donald Trump and many of his allies falsely alleged that the 2020 election was stolen from him and that widespread fraud occurred, culminating with Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to stop the certification of the election’s results. There is no credible evidence of fraud on a level that would have affected the presidential election results.

Election security is the No. 1 legislative priority of the Republican Party of Texas, whose chairman, Allen West, plans to be an aggressive voice at the Capitol this session when it comes to the party’s eight priorities. He has also been a critic of some of Abbott’s pandemic decisions, fueling speculation that he could challenge the governor in the 2022 primary.

See here for the discussion of emergency powers. I just want to remind everybody that back in 2011 when the Republicans passed the existing voter ID bill, which remains one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, they specifically exempted absentee ballots from voter ID requirements. Why did they do that? The simple answer to that question is that voting by mail used to be an area of Republican dominance, and the Republican legislators did not want to make it any harder for their preferred voters to cast a ballot. But now that Democrats have started voting by mail in larger numbers, all bets are off. That is the reason they’re doing this, all claims of “election integrity” aside, and it annoys me that I never see any mention of that in news stories about this. Voting by mail used to advantage Republicans. Now it doesn’t, and so Republicans want to make it harder. It’s as simple as that, and the same crap is happening all across the country. All of us, the media very much included, need to be clear-eyed about that.

In case that doesn’t set your teeth on edge enough, there’s this.

With Texas’ Republican leadership cataloguing “election integrity” as a top priority this legislative session, House Speaker Dade Phelan on Thursday named state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, as the chair of the House Elections Committee. The panel, which has a Republican majority, typically considers legislation related to voting rules and election law.

Cain, who previously served on the committee, traveled to Pennsylvania in the days after Election Day to work with the Trump campaign. The campaign eventually filed a lawsuit alleging widespread issues with mail-in ballots in the state; a federal judge threw out the lawsuit, finding the president’s team provided “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations” that were not supported by evidence.

Republican claims of election fraud in swing states have been discredited by the federal courts, and election officials and former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr have said there was no evidence of widespread fraud that could have swayed the results of the presidential election.

[…]

“I’m looking forward to getting input from Texans, members, and policy experts in order to better gauge what needs to be done,” Cain said on Thursday when asked about his priorities for the committee. “I believe SB 9 is great starting point though and I’m glad the Governor made election integrity an emergency item.”

Voting rights advocates on Thursday decried Cain’s appointment given his involvement with the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the election and the role it played in fueling the Jan. 6 deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“Cain was so invested in undermining our free and fair elections that he took his conspiracy theories on the road to fight against the will of Pennsylvania voters,” said H. Drew Galloway, the executive director of the MOVE Texas Action Fund, a nonprofit organization that advocates for young voters. “This appointment is a slap in the face to every Texas voter who braved a pandemic to make their voices heard last November and the generations of Black and Brown activists who have fought for the right to vote.”

Democrats are not going to be able to stop any of this on their own, and the courts are hardly allies in this fight. Either Congress acts to pass that massive voting rights bill and we get some relief, or we better get used to ever-ratcheting restrictions on who can vote and how. There’s no time to waste. The DMN has more.

If we’re lucky, Congress will short circuit the Lege’s attempts to curtail voting

That would be nice.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Elections have consequences. So does the Republican enabling of the worst, most corrupt chief executive in the nation’s history. Hence, the first piece of legislation to be introduced in the new Democratic Senate will be S. 1, The for the People Act of 2021. The bill from Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is a companion to H.R. 1 in the House, a bill with the same title and largely similar provisions to restore and protect voting rights, tackle dark money in politics, and make ethics reforms for public servants.

This could be the legislation that breaks the filibuster, and that will be a challenge for some Republicans to oppose. The House passed a version of the bill soon after retaking the majority in the last Congress, but no Republican in the Senate had to face a vote on it because Mitch McConnell just refused to bring the bill to the floor. Upping the stakes is Project Lincoln, the never-Trumper Republicans who made a big splash against Trump and his enablers in the GOP. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has the scoop that Project Lincoln supports it. “If Republicans want to move past Trump and repudiate Trumpism in all its forms, they need to pass foundational reforms to democracy,” Reed Galen, co-founder of the group told Sargent. “Senate Republicans must make a choice: Do they stand for democracy or are they the new Jim Crow caucus?”

Here’s some of what they have to decide on: universal registration of eligible voters and simple voter registration maintenance available to all voters online, Election Day voter registration, limiting voter purges by states and requiring early voting, as well as restricting hurdles states can impose on voting and vote by mail; restoration of the protections in the Voting Rights Act overturned by the Supreme Court and blocked by McConnell; and independent redistricting commission in the states to end gerrymandering. On the dark money front, it would impose new disclosure requirements both on donations and on lobbying, and require presidents and vice presidents to release their tax returns.

Some of these things directly address bills that will be or have been introduced this session, while others would allow Democratic agenda items to bypass that insurmountable obstacle. HR1 also addresses redistricting, but it is not clear that it will address it for this reapportionment cycle or if it would wait till 2031. That seems like a risk to me, but it may also be a moot point if the legislation can’t be passed in a timely fashion. And of course, anything Congress passes will be litigated, and that which is not litigated will be subject to various weaselly attempts to get around it. So no matter what, this is a long-term story. But at least there’s a chance it could be one with a more affirming narrative.

How bad will the attack on voting be this session?

Hard to say, but there’s no reason to be particularly optimistic.

As the country’s political polarization reaches a boiling point — illustrated vividly Wednesday by the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the president who believed his false claims that the election was stolen — Texas Republicans are seeking to make some of the nation’s strictest voting laws even stricter.

They say the unrest sparked by the events Wednesday is likely to invigorate discussions over the matter in the state Legislature, where the 2021 session will begin Tuesday.

Several election-related bills have been filed by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — though their aims are in direct opposition, with Democrats looking to ease up laws they see as suppressing the vote and Republicans trying to curb the opportunities for the fraud they say plagued the 2020 election.

Democrats have filed about two-thirds of the election-related bills, with the other third coming from Republicans.

“If this week has highlighted anything, it’s that we need to protect and encourage democracy and that it’s fragile,” said Rep. John Bucy III, an Austin Democrat who sits on the House Elections Committee. “And so these types of bills are worth the investment.”

Election integrity was voted one of the Texas GOP’s top eight legislative priorities in 2020 by its members. Republican bills include measures to tighten mail voting restrictions and stop governors from changing election laws during disasters, two concerns that President Donald Trump raised in his election challenges.

[…]

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, filed legislation that would codify a Texas Supreme Court decision that blocked Harris County from sending mail ballot applications to every registered voter in the county ahead of the November election. Texas is one of 16 states that require voters to have an excuse to vote by mail.

Bettencourt said Harris County’s move to mail the applications “would have certainly caused more voter confusion” because most recipients would not have been eligible for an absentee ballot. The state Supreme Court ruled last year that voters’ lack of immunity to the coronavirus alone does not qualify as a disability that makes them eligible to vote by mail, but could be one of several factors a voter may consider.

Other bills filed by Republican lawmakers aim to correct the voter rolls, such as one filed by newly elected Sen. Drew Springer that would require voter registrars to do various checks for changes in address on an annual basis.

Springer said the bill was inspired by an Ohio law that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 upheld that allows the state to purge voters from the registration rolls if they do not return a mailed address confirmation form or don’t vote for two federal election cycles. The Texas bill would require registrars to use data from the U.S. Postal Service and property records for inactive voters to identify possible changes of address, then to send the notice requesting confirmation of their current residence.

The Bettencourt bill, as described, doesn’t concern me much. Even in 2020, and even with all of the COVID-driven changes to election procedures, not that many people voted by mail, and the vast majority of those who did were over 65. Those folks will get their vote by mail applications one way or another. Unless there’s more to this, this bill is all show.

The Springer bill is potentially more concerning, but the devil will be in the details. I continue to have hope for a revamped federal law that will do a lot to protect voting rights that will blunt the effect of efforts like these, but it’s very much early days and there’s no guarantees of anything yet.

I did not excerpt a section of the story in which Rep. Steve Toth will propose a constitutional amendment that would require a special session of the Legislature in order to renew a state of disaster or emergency declaration past 30 days. It’s presented as a voting rights-adjacent measure, prompted in part by Greg Abbott’s extension of the early voting period, but as we discussed many times last year, there’s a lot of merit in asserting the role of the Legislature in these matters. I don’t trust Steve Toth any more than I trust Steven Hotze, but on its face this idea is worth discussing. It also would require a substantial number of Dems to support it, so there’s room for it to be a positive force. We’ll see.

There are bills put forth by Dems for obvious things like online voter registration, same day registration, no excuses absentee balloting, and so forth, all of which have little to no chance of being adopted. I’ve said before that I think people like voting to be easy and convenient for themselves and that Democrats should campaign on that (among other things), so I’m delighted to see these bills. I just know they’re not happening this session.

Beyond that, I’m sure there will be worse bills filed than what we’ve seen here. I won’t be surprised if there’s a push to amend the voter ID law to include absentee ballots, now that those are no longer seen as Republican assets. I’m sure there will be a bill officially limiting mail ballot dropoff locations, and maybe one to limit early voting hours. For sure, there’s a significant contingent of Republicans that would like to make voting extra super inconvenient for everyone, as well as make the penalties for whatever minor offense Ken Paxton can find to charge someone with as harsh as possible:

Laugh at the lunacy that is Allen West all you like, the man is in a position of influence. Note also the attack on drive-through voting, which is another likely target even without this hysteria. I don’t know how far the Republicans will go, but they’ll do something. We can do what we can to stop them, and after that it’s all about winning more elections. It’s not going to get any easier.

Will we get redistricting hearings?

Please?

Voting groups in Texas want lawmakers to open up the state’s redistricting process to the public before they redraw political boundaries next year.

Public hearings are aimed at giving communities input in the process. But since the pandemic, those meetings have completely stopped.

Stephanie Swanson, who works on redistricting and census issues for the League of Women Voters of Texas, said the Texas House had held only 13 of its 25 scheduled hearings in the months before the pandemic starting in September 2019.

“The Senate, however, has not held a single public input hearing,” she said, “which is very concerning.”

A coalition of civic groups, including the League, had sent letters to state lawmakers earlier this summer asking them to consider holding the meetings virtually. Swanson said she never received a response.

On Wednesday, the League — as well as other groups who have previously raised concerns — sent another round of letters to leaders in the Texas House and the Texas Senate.

“Although the need for creating a forum for holding virtual public input hearings is a new procedural necessity because of the COVID pandemic, the importance of facilitating public input into the legislative redistricting process is not new,” the groups wrote. “Public input, at every stage of the map-making process, is critical to a fair redistricting process and essential to compliance with the Voting Rights Act.”

[…]

State lawmakers have claimed they can’t move the hearings to a virtual format because there are rules that prohibit virtual hearings in the legislature.

However, Swanson said she doesn’t think these rules should apply to these public hearings.

“These are public input hearings — they are not voting on legislation that they would need an official body for,” she said. “They are not taking any official vote.”

New rules will be voted on when the House gavels in next month. I don’t really expect much from public hearings, but it would be nice to do things in the orderly and old-fashioned way that we have been accustomed to, if only for the sake of good form. I could definitely do with that.

So now we start to prep for redistricting

It’s gonna make for a long session, or more likely sessions.

Wielding the map-drawing power will not be entirely painless for Republicans, who have seen their grip on dozens of state and federal districts erode since the last round of redistricting. Though Democrats failed to flip any of their targeted congressional seats in 2020 and fared about as poorly in state House contests, their single-digit defeats in once ruby red districts point to Democrats’ growing advantages in urban and suburban counties, even as Republicans retain an overwhelming advantage in rural Texas.

Republicans, then, will have to decide how aggressive they want to be in redrawing political boundaries to their benefit, balancing the need to fortify their numbers in battleground districts with the opportunity to flip back some of the districts they lost in 2018, when Democrats picked up 12 seats.

“I see this redistricting opportunity for Republicans as more of a defensive play than an offensive play,” said Texas Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “This is one of the tough things when you’re engaging in redistricting if you’re the party in power, because you can be sort of allured by the short-term potential to win an extra seat or two. But you can take two steps forward to eventually take three steps back if you’re not thinking about demographic changes over a 10-year period.”

For now, the looming redistricting fight is far from the minds of most state lawmakers. Though the U.S. Census Bureau is supposed to deliver updated population data to states by April 1 next year, the agency suspended field operations for the 2020 Census due to the COVID-19 pandemic and wrapped up the count in October, well after the original July 31 deadline. Bureau officials also sought to push back the deadline for sending data to the states until July 2021, prompting speculation that Texas may not get the census numbers until after the Legislature gavels out in late May.

“If the data is not delivered during the regular session, it creates a whole set of cascading problems that impact the drawing of lines, even down to the county and municipal levels, because everyone is going to be put on an even greater time crunch,” said Eric Opiela, an attorney and former executive director of the Texas Republican Party who has worked on prior redistricting efforts.

During normal times, officials might already be using population data from the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey (ACS) to strategize or even draw up preliminary maps. But the pandemic has forced census workers to adopt unconventional survey tactics and generated unprecedented population shifts due to the rise in remote working, factors that make any pre-2020 population data highly unreliable, Opiela said.

“Those (ACS) projections can be used to allow you to do things like work through scenarios before the official data comes, and it’s actually fairly accurate,” Opiela said. “I don’t know that that’s going to be the case this time. I think it’s going to be very important to wait until the official data is received to draw any conclusions as to where Texans live.”

It’s not just the uncertain timeline. Even if the Census data arrived on time, COVID-19 would likely hamper redistricting efforts by forcing lawmakers to prioritize filling the state’s pandemic-inflicted budget gap and perhaps providing economic and medical relief to COVID-19 victims.

“The challenge with redistricting is it’s such a naturally partisan issue that it’s really hard to sort of box half the day and then be ballet dancers the other half of the day,” Mackowiak said. “It’s hard to be bipartisan on other issues but then super, super partisan during redistricting. So, having a special session just related to redistricting after the major issues are taken care of seems to me to be the smartest pathway.”

See here for the most recent news on the Census situation. I think it’s very likely that we don’t get the data in time for the regular session, in which case redistricting will be done in a special session later in the year. Depending on how late that is, and on how long it takes to hammer out maps, and whether any initial court challenges result in temporary restraining orders, we could see the 2022 primaries get pushed back. The filing period begins in mid-November, after all, so there’s a non-zero chance of it being affected by how this plays out.

It’s worth remembering that if the Dems had managed to win the State House, they still would have had limited influence over redistricting. As the story correctly notes, the Legislative Redistricting Board, a five-member panel that would have had only one Democrat (the House Speaker, in this hypothetical), would draw the State House, State Senate, and SBOE maps if the House and Senate had been unable to agree on them. The Congressional maps would go to a federal court, however, and that’s where the Dems might have had some influence. If Republicans didn’t want to take the chance of putting map-drawing power in a third party like that, they might have been open to some compromises on the other maps. We’ll never know now, but that was the basic idea.

As it is, how this goes with Republicans once again in full control will come down to how they answer a few key questions. (For the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on the State House. The issue are mostly similar for Congress and the State Senate, but my examples will come from House elections.) Will they be constrained by established rules like the county line rule, which puts only whole House seats in sufficiently large counties (this is why all Harris County State House seats are entirely within Harris County), or do they change that? How constrained do they feel by the Voting Rights Act, and by other established redistricting precedents – in other words, do they bet big on the courts overturning past rulings so that they can more or less do whatever they want, or do they pull it in so as not to risk losing in court?

Most of all, what do they consider a “safe” seat to be? Look at it this way: In 2012, Republicans won 16 of the 95 seats they took with less than 60% of the vote. Of those, only five were decided by fewer than ten points:

HD43 – Won in 2010 by then-Democrat JM Lozano, who subsequently switched parties.
HD105 – Barely won by the GOP in 2008, by less than 20 votes.
HD107 – Won by a Dem in 2008, it became the first Republican-held seat to flip in this decade, won by Victoria Neave in 2016.
HD114 – Nothing special, it was won by eight points in 2012.
HD134 – The perennial swing district.

Note that four of those five are now Democratic. Other “less than 60%” seats from 2012 now held by Dems include HDs 45, 47, 65, 102, 115, and 136. (*) The point is, that looks like an extremely durable majority, with enough 60%+ seats on their own to ensure a mostly Republican House. And indeed it was for the first three elections of the decade. There will be books written about why all of a sudden it became precarious, but you’d be hard pressed to do a better job than the Republicans did in 2011.

But as noted, things look different now. In 2020, Republicans won 26 of the 87 seats they took with less than 60% of the vote. Of those, seventeen were won by less than ten points:

HD26, HD54, HD64, HD66, HD67, HD92, HD93, HD94, HD96, HD97, HD108, HD112, HD121, HD126, HD132, HD138

We can talk all we want about how things might have gone differently in 2020, but the fact remains that it wouldn’t have taken much to change many of those outcomes. How many Republican incumbents will insist on a 55%+ district for themselves? Whatever assumptions you make about the 2020 electorate and what it means for the future, that’s going to be a tall order in some parts of the state.

This more than anything will drive their decision-making, and may well be the single biggest source of friction on their side. Who is willing to accept a 51% Republican district, and who will have to take one for the team? In 2011, Republicans were coming off an election that they had won by more than 20 points statewide. This year they won at the Presidential level by less than six points, and at the Senate level by less than ten. They have a smaller piece of the pie to cut up. They have full control over how they do it, but the pie isn’t as big as it used to be. What are they going to do about that?

(*) In 2012, Cindy Burkett had no Democratic opponent in HD113, and Gary Elkins was re-elected in HD135 with 60.36% of the vote. Both of those districts are now held by Democrats. Always in motion, the future is.