Democratic state representatives shut down the Texas House on Monday by fleeing to Washington. With their exit they denied the House a quorum to conduct business and temporarily blocked passage of a GOP election-reform bill.
It was melodramatic even by today’s standards. Before dozens of legislators boarded two private jets (one carrying a case of Miller Lite), the House Democratic Caucus chairman declared “we’re in a fight to save our democracy.” They later warbled “We Shall Overcome” on the U.S. Capitol steps. Their return date is unknown.
Texas Democrats have two big beefs with H.B.3, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Andrew Murr. Both involve practices used last fall in Harris County, site of Houston, the state’s most populous city.
One is 24-hour voting. Texas law requires counties to open polling sites for at least eight hours each weekday of early in-person voting while counties of 100,000-plus population must offer 12 hours on Saturday and five hours on Sunday. Harris County used a unique interpretation of this to set up eight voting locations open 24 hours on Oct. 29, most in Democratic areas.
Mr. Murr argues it’s an unnecessary expense for 254 Texas counties to provide county employees and volunteer election officials and observers for round-the-clock voting. Guided by the principle of equal protection, he proposes consistency and uniformity through a reasonable statewide standard.
He’d also make it easier to vote. H.B.3 requires all counties to open early voting locations for at least nine hours on weekdays (up from the current minimum of eight) between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Counties with 55,000 or greater population would be required to offer at least 12 hours on Saturdays between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. and six hours on Sundays between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. H.B.3 would also expand protections for people taking time off to cast a ballot to include during the early-voting period.
Does this sound like Jim Crow 2.0?
The other Democratic issue is drive-through voting. Texas law allows this for people who are “physically unable to enter the polling place” unassisted. Citing the pandemic, Harris County decided everyone could vote from a car and opened 10 sites, principally in Democratic areas. The Murr bill explicitly prohibits drive-through voting for the able-bodied.
Democratic claims that these changes are “voter suppression” are malarkey. If 24-hour and drive-through voting were so critical, why was turnout in Harris County 65.86%, slightly below the statewide number of 66.73%?
Why did 130 Texas counties without 24-hour or drive-through voting have higher turnout than Harris? These included urban counties—Travis (home to Austin) at 70.55% and Tarrant (Fort Worth) at 67.64%; suburbs like Collin (74.82%) and Montgomery (73.28%); metro areas like Brazos (Bryan-College Station) at 69.39% and Comal (New Braunfels) at 75.89%; rural counties like Blanco (79.40%) and Burnet (73.14%) and counties with substantial black populations such as Houston (70.11%), Madison (67.62%), Robertson (68.22%) and Walker (67.34%).
Despite not having 24-hour or drive-through voting, 91 Texas counties saw turnout increase in 2020 over 2016 by bigger margins than Harris County did. These included heavily Hispanic rural counties like Duval, Starr and Zavala in South Texas and Atascosa and Karnes in South Central Texas, as well as Nueces (Corpus Christi) and Bexar (San Antonio)—further evidence that limits on 24-hour and drive-through voting won’t hurt voters of color.