Texas Hates It When You Vote :(
Just a little more than a month after a federal judge told Texas not to try purging its voter rolls of suspiciously brown people based on very bad drivers license data, the state Senate is back with a whole NEW load of voter-suppressing fuckery, once again in the name of fighting "voter fraud," which is exceedingly rare to start with. This time the vehicle for reducing turnout is a steaming pile called Senate Bill 9, which passed Monday and will now head to the state House. SB 9 will treat submitting "false information" on a voter registration form as a "state jail felony," even if the incorrect information is an honest error -- like writing the wrong zip code. And that's just for starters!
The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, is very very concerned about the integrity of the ballot, you see. That's why his bill will make it a lot easier to turn voters into criminals! Now, we should say from the start that there is exactly one (1) good idea in the bill: It requires that electronic voting machines provide a paper record of each vote, to allow audits of voting after a close election, or if hacking is suspected. A hearty round of applause for that truly essential bit of good government! But the rest of it is a mess.
In addition to scaring people from registering to vote (with a two-year sentence and fine up to $10,000), the bill would also punish people for casting a provisional ballot if they're not eligible to vote. That's actually pretty fiendish, and may violate federal law, as Democratic state Sen. José Menéndez pointed out. Presently, there's no penalty in Texas for an ineligible voter casting a provisional ballot -- mostly because that's what provisional ballots are for, says Menéndez.
"[They] allow voters to follow up with the county to make sure their ballot was counted, and the law explicitly refers to provisional voting as fail-safe voting."
Menéndez said Texas counties encourage election workers to offer provisional ballots to people who may be unsure of their registration status if they've recently moved or do not have proper paperwork with them.
"Under state law, provisional voting ballots automatically serve as a voter registration application," Menéndez said. "(This bill) would criminalize people who aren't sure of their registration status and fill out a provisional ballot."
Well if they aren't absolutely sure they're in the right precinct, they shouldn't vote, because the Founders wanted voting to be hard. Or at least the fucking Federalists did.
Another fun provision of SB 9 would crack down on those horrible evil frauders who drive people to the polls with the intent of letting just anybody exercise their legal franchise. No, no, no, voting should not be easy! Instead, SB 9 would require anyone who drives someone to the polls to fill out a form stating that the voter is physically unable to get to the polls without assistance, or at risk of damaging their health. Maybe that could be followed up with a provision requiring poll workers to sneak up on any such voters and yell "BOO!" to see if they jump to their feet.
Texas is already notorious for prosecuting mistakes as "fraud" -- see the case of Crystal Mason, who was sentenced last year to 10 months in prison because she voted while still on parole (and while being black with malice aforethought). She thought she could vote once she was out of prison, so obviously an example had to be made of her. A coalition of civil rights groups protested in a letter to Hughes that the provisional ballot section would
effectively open to prosecution any voter who casts a provisional ballot if they mistakenly believe they are registered or are mistakenly trying to vote in the wrong precinct. In the five largest urban counties in 2018 alone, 9,608 voters had provisional ballots rejected for these reasons. This bill would undermine the very purpose of having provisional ballots and likely violates the federal Help America Vote Act.
Texas is so bad at letting people vote, in fact, that Jim Jordan is trying to block an investigation of it!
The civil rights groups also warned that other parts of the bill run the risk of allowing voters' personal information to be compromised, including their Social Security numbers, since the bill would allow more state officials -- even those who have nothing to do with voting -- to access voter records. Gee, what could possibly go wrong? Not that Hughes was at all moved by the civil rights groups, but they did at least give it the old patriotic try, huh?
As a whole, this bill would take Texas in the wrong direction. In recent years, Texas' voter participation rates have been among the lowest in the country. This is not because Texans care less about democracy than Americans elsewhere, but because state officials have gone out of their way to enact ever more restrictive voting laws in a bid to hold onto power. Far from combating widespread "voter fraud" — claims of which have been repeatedly disproven — this bill is the next, significantly more aggressive step in a voter suppression campaign that most recently included [Secretary of State David ] Whitley's disastrous voter purge.
State Sen Menéndez and another Democrat, state Sen. José Rodríguez, both offered amendments that would clarify that people should only be punished if they intentionally broke the voter registration or provisional ballot sections of the new law.
"If we're going to make people felons, we should at least make sure they are intentionally committing the fraud and not just checking the wrong box," Rodríguez said.
But forget you and your cozying up to criminals, you guys -- the state Senate rejected both amendments, and now the bill goes on to the House. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick sees the bill as a top priority, so it's likely to pass there as well. Then when Gov. Greg Abbott signs it with a big speech about cracking down on (nearly nonexistent) "voter fraud," it'll be time for the lawsuits to start flying, because fucking Texas.
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