Let us pause amid the rancor of our times to praise voters who stood in long lines the very first day of early voting, admittedly sometimes a bit too close to one another, to cast ballots in arguably the most polarizing election this nation has seen since 1860. With pandemic numbers headed in the wrong direction and flu season expected to complicate matters, what we saw in our travels around McLennan County was democracy in action and citizens in charge, despite the odds. Trump voters will walk on hot coals for their man, just as those who see him as a threat to the republic will crawl through broken glass to remove him from power. Under the circumstances, neither pandemic nor efforts at voter suppression will deter them.
Yet the question remains: Should we erect more hurdles to voting in absence of significant evidence of voting fraud?
Historians and legal scholars will long dissect state and federal court decisions issued right and left, sometimes clearing hurdles for Texas voters, more often bolstering obvious voter suppression simply because a hurdle has the force of dubious law or gubernatorial proclamation behind it. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, for instance, clearly sought to discourage older and disabled voters in heavily populated counties by forcing those with mail-in ballots (again, primarily senior citizens and the disabled) to drive farther to drop off those ballots at a single location in each county. He did so supposedly to deter election fraud inherent in multiple drop-off spots. Problem: No such fraud has been documented in statistically significant numbers. Alas, a trio of federal judges on the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the governor’s proclamation, even as one held his nose in doing so.
The rulings themselves confound because even these Trump-appointed judges disagree with one another. Judge Kyle Duncan’s majority opinion on Monday gamely suggests Abbott’s Oct. 1 order limiting mail-in drop-off locations to one per each of Texas’ 254 diverse counties should really be considered alongside Abbott’s July 27 order expanding in-person early voting and mail-in voting due to the pandemic. Properly understood, Judge Duncan assures us, the Oct. 1 proclamation is “part of an expansion of absentee voting in Texas, not a restriction of it.” [His italics, not ours.] Judge James Ho, however, only “begrudgingly” concurs because while Ho similarly faults a lower court ruling negating Abbott’s proclamation, he also skewers Abbott: “It is surely just as offensive to the Constitution to rewrite Texas election law by executive fiat as it is to do so by judicial fiat.”
All this should give voters in long lines more to think about, including those we saw waiting with walkers and canes. Whether late challenges to drive-through and curbside voting or reckless, bungled attempts to purge voters from voter rolls, somewhere along the line fair-minded citizens must ask themselves if heaping hardships on voting is being undertaken in the interest of election fraud — or because a political party and its candidates can’t carry the day on their own merits.