Texas Democrats Flee State to Highlight G.O.P. Voting Restrictions

From today’s New York Times:

Texas Democrats fled the state on Monday in a last-ditch effort to prevent the passage of a restrictive new voting law in the Republican-controlled legislature, heading to Washington to draw attention to what they portray as a damaging assault on the right to cast a ballot.

Democrats from the Texas State Legislature held a news conference outside the State Capitol in Austin last week.

The group left Austin in midafternoon on a pair of chartered flights that were scheduled to arrive by the early evening. An official involved with the effort said more than 51 of the 67 State House Democrats members had signed on, enough to prevent Texas Republicans from attaining a quorum, which is required to conduct state business.

But the Democrats’ move also lays bare their limited options in a legislature where the Republicans hold the majority in both chambers. Parliamentary procedures and efforts to add amendments can delay the process but not derail it, and leaving the state to prevent a quorum, Republicans said Monday, would ultimately fail as well.

Representative Briscoe Cain, a Houston-area Republican who chairs the House Elections Committee, said Democrats’ departure from the state “slows things down” but would not prevent Republicans from ultimately passing the G.O.P.-backed voter overhaul bill in the 30-day special session.

Read more here.

Texas Democrats’ walkout sets up epic battle over voting rights

From today’s The Hill Online:

Texas legislators are gearing up for a titanic battle over a Republican effort to overhaul voting procedures after Democrats conspired to block its passage late Sunday night.

Texas Voting Bill Nears Passage as Republicans Advance It - The New York  Times

The omnibus legislative package came to a screeching halt after Democrats quietly abandoned the floor of the state House, denying Republicans the quorum they needed to pass the bill in the session’s waning hours.

In an echo of a previous exodus 18 years ago, when state House members fled across state lines to Oklahoma to delay a redistricting plan led by then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R), Democrats managed to exit the legislature on Sunday without attracting Republican attention. 

Democrats began considering walking out earlier on Sunday, when senior Black and Latino members started urging their colleagues to slip out. Those minority Democrats were enraged by last-minute provisions added to the House version of the election overhaul that more closely mirrored the Senate version, which would have made it easier for a judge to overturn election results.

About 45 House Democrats were off the floor before 9 p.m. By the time a final text message to Democratic members urged them to clear out at 10:35 p.m., the House faced a midnight deadline that the elections overhaul failed to meet.

“Not only was there a will to do this but we had a way to do it successfully,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D), one of the ringleaders of the exodus, told The Hill.

Read the complete article here.

Texas House Approves GOP-Backed Voting Restrictions Bill

From today’s NPR News Online:

Texas legislators approved new, more restrictive state election rules aftera session that lasted from Thursday night into the early hours of Friday. The GOP-backed state Senate bill passed the House at 3 a.m. (4 a.m. ET) after hours of debate over amendments proposed by Democrats.

The House version of the legislation, which differs significantly from what passed the state Senate, will now go to a conference committee to resolve the differences.

The measure would make it a felony to provide voters with an application to vote by mail if they hadn’t requested one, or to use any public funds to facilitate the third-party distribution of mail-in voting applications.

The ability for polling place “watchers” to be present throughout the day of the election is also expanded under the bill. It sets a high bar for when such observers can be taken out of a polling place. The bill states they can be removed “only if the watcher engages in activity that would constitute an offense related to the conduct of the election.”

But the version the House passed early Friday also stripped out some of the more contentious provisions seen in earlier iterations, such as a ban on drive-thru voting and restrictions on early voting schedules.

The legislation was criticized by Democrats, progressive groups and voting rights advocates as a “voter suppression bill.” Republicans such as state Rep. Jeff Leach view it as “sensible election integrity legislation that ensures and protects full access to the ballot box.” The bill, he tweeted shortly after 4:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m. ET), cracks down on “illegal activity” undermining elections, echoing the false claims that elections in November were not secure.

Read the complete article here.

Battleground states urge SCOTUS to reject Texas bid to overturn Biden’s wins

From today’s CNBC News Online:

The battleground states whose presidential election results are being challenged by Texas at the Supreme Court urged the justices on Thursday not to take up the case.

The four states targeted in the lawsuit warned in uncharacteristically sharp briefs that granting Texas’ unprecedented request would “do violence to the Constitution” and “disenfranchise millions” of voters. Those states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia — have all certified their election results, with Democrat Joe Biden defeating President Donald Trump.

Nearly simultaneously, Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine filed a brief at the court on behalf of the District of Columbia and 22 states and territories defending the four states targeted by Texas. That friend-of-the-court brief was joined by California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington.

The flurry of major briefs related to the case — including Trump’s own request to intervene — demonstrated the dramatic and lingering polarization of the U.S. just weeks after one of the most contentious elections in memory.

Pennsylvania in its brief called Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s long-shot bid to overturn other states’ elections “legally indefensible” and “an affront to principles of constitutional democracy. Texas seeks to invalidate elections in four states for yielding results with which it disagrees,” Pennsylvania’s scathing brief read.

Dana Nessel, the attorney general of Michigan, told the court in her state’s brief to reject Texas’ case outright. “To do otherwise would make this Court the arbiter of all future national elections,” Nessel wrote.

Christopher Carr, the attorney general of Georgia, told the court that Texas was seeking to “transfer Georgia’s electoral powers to the federal judiciary.” “Respect for federalism and the constitutional design prohibits that transfer of power, but this Court should never even reach that issue,” he wrote.

The replies came one day after Trump asked the high court to let him intervene in the case. The president, who is refusing to concede to Biden, has hyped Texas’ case as “the big one” — but election law experts say there’s little if any chance the court will allow it to proceed.

So far, the justices have not taken any action in the case. Despite Trump’s frequent pleas, the court has not shown an eagerness to get involved in any litigation related to the presidential election.

Read the complete article here.

Judge Dismisses Effort To Throw Out Drive-Through Votes In Houston

From today’s NPR News Online:

U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen on Monday threw out a suit challenging the legality of some 127,000 votes cast at drive-through voting sites in the Houston area. He ruled the plaintiffs don’t have legal standing to sue.

Harris County, Texas’ most populous county and majority-Democratic, erected 10 tents to expedite the early voting process as a way of allowing people to cast ballots safely during the coronavirus pandemic. They were also in place this summer before the state’s primary.

Noting that point, Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee, asked plaintiffs, “Why am I just getting this case?” He later said that the suit was not timely and that “this has been going on all summer.”

The suit was brought by Republican activists, who argued the move by Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, a Democrat, was an illegal expansion of curbside voting, which is permitted under Texas law. The Texas Supreme Court dismissed a similar challenge on Sunday. All of that court’s justices are Republican appointees.

Hanen said that if he found the plaintiffs did have standing, he would have still ruled against them “as to the voting that has already taken place,” but that he would “probably enjoin tomorrow’s votes.” He also ordered that records of votes cast in the drive-through facilities be maintained in case his decision is reversed on appeal.

One of the intervenors in the hearing, lawyer Andre Segura of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, argued that a ruling allowing the ballots to be thrown out would cause people to have to vote a second time.

Read the complete article here.

TX governor orders only one mail ballot drop-off location allowed per county

From today’s The Hill Online:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a new proclamation allowing only one mail ballot drop-off location per county.

Starting Friday, mail ballots submitted in person by eligible vote-by-mail voters must be returned to a publicly designated county voting clerk’s office, a local NBC affiliate KXAN reported.

The proclamation allows early voters only one ballot drop-off location per county, and other drop-off satellite locations will be closed.

Abbott’s proclamation will also require early voting clerks to let poll watchers monitor the locations and “observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk’s office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot.”

“As we work to preserve Texans’ ability to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state,” Abbott said. “These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”

In Texas, mail-in voters who drop off their ballots must show a photo ID, sign a roster and deposit a sealed envelope into their designated county ballot box, the Statesman reported.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa blasted the move in a statement, saying, “Governor Abbott and Texas Republicans are scared.”

“Republicans are on the verge of losing, so Governor Abbott is trying to adjust the rules last minute,” Hinojosa added, saying, “Courts all over the country … have held that it is too late to change election rules.”

Read the complete article here.

Civil Rights Groups Push TX To Expand Absentee Voting In Face of COVID-19

From Houston Public Media/NPR Online:

Hundreds of civil rights organizations are calling on state governments to expand absentee voting in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. In Texas, that may require an act of the governor.

Anthony Gutierrez, executive director with Common Cause Texas, said allowing widespread use of mail-in balloting is necessary to protect voters, who may fear to show up at the polls in large numbers and risk catching COVID-19.

But he said that’s not the only reason.

“I’m worried that election workers are simply not going to show up,” Gutierrez said, “because the vast majority of people who are working at our poll sites right now in Texas, and everywhere in America for that matter, they tend to be older Americans. They fall into that pool of people who are most at risk during this pandemic. Obviously if election workers don’t show up, poll sites don’t open. There’s nobody to operate the machines and check in voters.” 

Under Texas law, residents have to meet one of four conditions to vote absentee. They have to be over 65, overseas, in jail, or disabled. Gutierrez said that by itself should not provide a legal barrier to expanding the use of mail-in ballots.

“The Secretary of State can issue an advisory simply stating that any Texan who wants to vote by mail because of COVID-19 concerns is allowed to do so by just checking the disabled box on the form,” he said.

It’s the legislature, not the Secretary of State, that sets the criteria for eligibility for mail-in ballots. But Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston, said Governor Abbott has a lot of leeway on how to interpret that eligibility.

“This is an unprecedented emergency, and the governor has so far shown that he’s willing to extend a little executive muscle to make sure that people are safe,” Rottinghaus said. Abbott last week issued a proclamation allowing local governments to postpone scheduled May 2 elections to Nov. 3.

Read the complete article here.

Federal Judge Blocks Texas Effort to Suppress Minority Voters with ID Law

Yesterday a federal judge in Houston blocked the state of Texas from enacting a revised version of its “Voter ID Law.” Known as Senate Bill 5, the legislation was revised from previous attempts by the state legislature to implement a strict Voter ID requirement for voters to participate in elections. The previous version was, in part, struck down because it violated certain parts of the Voting Rights Act that prohibit voting rules and regulations that fall disproportionately on racial minorities.

In the decision, Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled that the revised law still barred voters from showing state or federal employee ID cards, and since those who lack the accepted forms of identification were “subjected to separate voting obstacles and procedures,” she wrote, “S.B. 5’s methodology remains discriminatory because it imposes burdens disproportionately on blacks and Latinos.”

With a growing Latino and Hispanic population set to eclipse the white conservative majority of Texas voters, the Republican party in that state has long sought to disenfranchise racial minorities from improving their participation rates in elections. The recent return to Jim Crow-style voting requirement laws in southern states is a clear effort to suppress minority voters in an effort to prop up the political power of white conservatives.

“Jim Crow-era tactics have kept Texas Republicans in power,” Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement.

In addition to Voter ID laws the anti-democratic policy of “gerrymandering” remains a significant obstacle to reforming elections in states across the country. The Republican party has taken steps to ensure the preservation of white conservative governorships and state legislatures by redrawing voting districts to favor their constituents, but such efforts are also under scrutiny. The U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear a case in Gill v. Whitford this fall reviewing recent changes by the Republican legislature in the state of Wisconsin to redraw its political map in an effort to marginalize racial and political minorities.

How the wealth gap between restaurant goers and their servers is​ widening

Andrea Gillette lined up the bottles of fruit-flavored cocktails behind the bar. The guy who leans a ladder against the big chalkboard to write out the day’s fresh fish selection had just about wrapped up.

Floors were swept, sliced lemons were crammed into a plastic bin, the trendy garage-door-style windows facing the shaded patio thrown open. Corey Ahrens brewed coffee.

Chip Kasper, the general manager, called out to the weekday crew at Fish City Grill, a bright, modern seafood restaurant at CityLine, a massive$1.5bndevelopment 20 miles north of downtown Dallas. Anchored by an almost 10,000-worker State Farm campus, CityLine also features a crop of buzzy fast-casual spots, a Whole Foods Market and a salon offering eyelash extension packages for upwards of $300.

It’s one of a handful of projects that have shifted the economic center of gravity of the nation’s fourth largest metro area; as a result, the northern suburbs of Dallas are some of the fastest-growing cities in the country.

“Got nine minutes to pre-shift!”

A little over a year ago, Fish City’s owner was worried this wasn’t going to happen.

In the roughly two decades since Bill Bayne and a partner opened Half Shells – the seed of what would become a chain of 20 restaurants – Bayne said he and his wife, who now own the Fish City company, have made a point to remember the names of workers at every level.

He takes pride in his ability to retain workers in an industry that sees high turnover. Still, as he prepared to open the chain’s outpost at CityLine he encountered an unanticipated hurdle.

He couldn’t find workers.

Bayne recalled sending his longtime kitchen manager, Frankie Argote, to “ride the rails” in search of people who looked like they might be cooks and to restaurants, where he asked managers whether they had employees who might be able to pick up more shifts. Argote recalled coming back and asking his boss, “Do we want to be cooking or serving?” Because he was struggling to find enough people to do both.

“This [location] has been probably the most challenging,” Bayne said.

As major corporate employers have swarmed places such as CityLine and the areas that surround them, a corresponding explosion of restaurants and bars has left business owners such as Bayne tapping into an almost-dry well of talent. Over the last five years, the number of jobs in food services and drinking places in the Dallas-Plano-Irving metropolitan division increased by 30.4%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That’s almost twice as fast as growth in those jobs nationally, which was 17.9% for the same time period.

But thanks to a range of factors, the fertile job-hunting fields north of Dallas are essentially off limits to many prospective workers.

Read the entire article here.

In Sweltering South, Climate Change Is Now a Workplace Hazard

From today’s New York Times by Yamiche Alcindor

GALVESTON, Tex. — Adolfo Guerra, a landscaper in this port city on the Gulf of Mexico, remembers panicking as his co-worker vomited and convulsed after hours of mowing lawns in stifling heat. Other workers rushed to cover him with ice, and the man recovered.

But for Mr. Guerra, 24, who spends nine hours a day six days a week doing yard work, the episode was a reminder of the dangers that exist for outdoor workers as the planet warms.

“I think about the climate every day,” Mr. Guerra said, “because every day we work, and every day it feels like it’s getting hotter.”

For many working class people, President Trump’s promise to make America great again conjured images of revived factories and resurgent industries, fueled by coal and other cheap fossil fuels. Such workers gave more of their votes to Mr. Trump than they did four years before to Mitt Romney, helping him eke out victory in November with narrow wins across the Rust Belt. Latino votes fell off for Democrats as well,from the 71 percent that went to Barack Obama in 2012 to the 66 percent that went for Hillary Clinton last year.

But to Robert D. Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University who some call the “father of environmental justice,” the industrial revival that Mr. Trump has promised could come with some serious downsides for an already warming planet. Professor Bullard is trying to bring that message to working-class Americans like Mr. Guerra, and to environmental organizations that have, in his mind, been more focused on struggling animals than poor humans, who have been disproportionately harmed by increasing temperatures, worsening storms and rising sea levels.

Read the entire article here.