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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Cynthia M. Allen: Texas Democrats insult the voters they say they’re protecting with Washington walkout

By Cynthia M. Allen Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH, Texas – Based on the fawning national media coverage, you’d think that Texas Democratic legislators are nothing short of civil-rights era heroes.

Their infamous, ongoing junket to Washington has been hailed as a mission to save voting rights in Texas, particularly the rights of people of color.

As a Latino, Abraham Enriquez, is ostensibly someone Texas Dems are trying to help.

But he doesn’t see their recent theatrics that way.

“It is absolutely condescending that an elected official says a certain demographic doesn’t have the capability to understand how to vote,” said Enriquez, president and founder of Bienvenido, a conservative organization seeking to empower members of the Hispanic community. “The Hispanic community in Texas has always been driven by self-reliance and an entrepreneurial spirit. What I am told by Democrats is that I should feel suppressed,” he added.

Enriquez pointed to a half-dozen largely benign provisions in Senate Bill 1 (and its companion bill, House Bill 3) – an ID requirement for mail-in ballots, firmly established early-voting times – as ways the law would protect his vote, not suppress it.

“I don’t want to feel like my vote isn’t going to count,” he told me.

Still, Texas Democrats and their supporters insist that those provisions and others the bills address will disproportionately harm minority communities.

Election officials in Harris County have argued that 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting, which would be eliminated under the new voting law, were particularly successful in reaching voters of color in the last election.

But as Chad Ennis, senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin, points out: “Just because you utilized one method of voting doesn’t mean if that method was gone, you wouldn’t have voted at all.”

Of course, acknowledging that reality would undermine the Democratic myth that every effort to secure elections is a Jim Crow 2.0.

If you read current election law, Ennis said, it becomes obvious where you can cheat.

“There are loopholes and there are people exploiting the loopholes,” he added. It’s the scale of that exploitation that’s up for discussion.

Proof of widespread fraud – the kind that affects hundreds or thousands of votes – is scant.

And the insistence by some Republicans that the 2020 election isn’t valid despite all evidence to the contrary undermines their otherwise necessary effort to address voting irregularities.

Indeed, most cases of fraud are in low-level elections that, Ennis said, don’t get much play but still have a huge impact on public policy.

“Where fraud happens and really counts is at the lower-level elections, where 10, 20 votes makes a big difference,” he added.

The proposed election reforms would be most efficacious for city council, school board and water board elections, where even a couple dozen votes can determine an outcome in places like Tarrant County.

Republican lawmakers would be well-served to make this case.

They are also remiss in not highlighting their efforts to compromise with Democrats. Ennis noted several areas of the bills where Republicans have modified language or added provisions to mollify Democratic concerns.

Worries that the increased access would give poll watchers too much power were addressed with the addition of a poll watcher training manual, which would lay out best practices and procedures.

Concerns about the identification requirement on mail-in ballots, which would call for ballots to include a driver’s license number, personal identification card number or the last four digits of a Social Security number, have been answered with a curing process by which ballots received early can have defects corrected in time to be counted.

“Your ideas are being accepted left and right, so come back,” Ennis argued to Democrats.

Given glowing media coverage, the support of national progressive organizations, and even a shout-out from Vice President Kamala Harris, Texas Dems probably feel they have more incentive to stay than come home.

They’re wrong about that.

Eventually they’ll have to return and address voting and the litany of other issues still awaiting their attention in a special session.

That mission will be even harder now.

“Texas Democrats leaving for the second time hurts us as a state,” Enriquez said.

Contact Cynthia M. Allen at cmallen@star-telegram.com.

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