With President Biden set to give a speech on voting rights in Philadelphia today and the Texas Legislature engulfed in chaos over a Republican effort to change election rules, we want to update you on the latest developments on the issue.
We’ll break down the major themes in the new state laws that Republicans are passing, as well as the responses from Democrats. The short version: Democratic leaders have no evident way to stop the Republican-backed laws — but the effect of those laws remains somewhat uncertain.
First, the news
In his Philadelphia speech, Biden will call efforts to limit ballot access “authoritarian and anti-American,” the White House said.
Some Democrats hope that presidential attention will persuade Congress to pass a voting-rights bill that outlaws the new Republican voting rules. But that’s unlikely. Congressional Republicans are almost uniformly opposed to ambitious voting-rights bills. And some Senate Democrats, including Joe Manchin, seem unwilling to change the filibuster, which would almost certainly be necessary to pass a bill.
So why is Biden giving a speech? In part, it helps him avoid criticism from progressive Democrats that he is ignoring the subject, as Michael Shear, a White House correspondent for The Times, told us.
But Biden also appears to be genuinely concerned about the issue, and the use of the presidential bully pulpit is one of the few options available to him. Over the long term, high-profile attention may increase the chances of federal legislation, Michael said.
In Texas, Democratic legislators fled the state yesterday to deny the Republican-controlled Legislature the quorum it needs to pass a restrictive voting bill. The move is likely only to delay the bill, not stop it from becoming law.
Republican officials have justified these new laws by saying that they want to crack down on voter fraud. But voter fraud is not a widespread problem, studies have found. Some of the very few cases have involved Republicans trying to vote more than once.
The substance of the laws makes their true intent clear: They are generally meant to help Republicans win more elections.
Increase partisan control
So far, at least 14 states have enacted laws that give partisan officials more control over election oversight — potentially allowing those politicians to overturn an election result, as Donald Trump urged state-level Republicans to do last year.
In Georgia, a Republican-controlled commission now has the power to remove local election officials, and has already removed some. Arkansas has empowered a state board to “take over and conduct elections” in a county if the G.O.P.-dominated legislature deems it is necessary. Arizona Republicans took away the Democratic secretary of state’s authority over election lawsuits and gave it to the Republican attorney general.
It’s not hard to imagine how Republican legislators could use some of these new rules to disqualify enough ballots to flip the result of a very close election — like, say, last year’s presidential election in Arizona or Georgia. The election-administration provisions, The Times’s Nate Cohn has written, are “the most insidious and serious threat to democracy” in the new bills.
Making voting harder
Many Republican politicians believe that they are less likely to win elections when voter turnout is high and have passed laws that generally make voting more difficult.
Some of the new laws restrict early voting: Iowa, for example, has shortened the early-voting period to 20 days from 29 and reduced poll hours on Election Day. Other states have made it harder to vote by mail: Florida has reduced the hours for ballot drop-off boxes and will also require voters to request a new mail ballot for each election.
Notably, some of the provisions are targeted at areas and groups that lean Democratic — like Black, Latino and younger voters. Georgia has lowered the number of drop boxes allowed for the metropolitan Atlanta area to an estimated 23 from 94 — while increasing drop boxes in some other parts of the state. Texas Republicans hope to ban drive-through voting and other measures that Harris County, a Democratic stronghold, adopted last year. Montana has ruled that student IDs are no longer a sufficient form of voter identification.
And the impact?
That’s not so easy to figure out. The laws certainly have the potential to accomplish their goal of reducing Democratic turnout more than Republican turnout. In closely divided states like Arizona, Florida or Georgia — or in a swing congressional district — even a small effect could determine an election.
But recent Republican efforts to hold down Democratic turnout stretch back to the Obama presidency, and so far they seem to have failed. “The Republican intent behind restrictive election laws may be nefarious, but the impact to date has been negligible,” Bill Scher wrote yesterday in RealClearPolitics. The restrictions evidently have not been big enough to keep people from voting, thanks in part to Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts.
The Republicans’ latest restrictions — and the ones that may follow, as in Texas — are more significant, however, and that creates uncertainty about their effect.
“Our democracy works best when we believe that everybody should have free, fair and accessible elections,” Myrna Pérez, a longtime elections expert, told us (before Biden nominated her to a federal judgeship). “And while it may turn out that their self-interested anti-voter efforts may backfire, make no mistake: Our democracy is worse just because they tried.”
The Supreme Court has taken a different view. Its Republican-appointed majority has repeatedly ruled that states have the right to restrict voting access.
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ARTS AND IDEAS
Eid al-Adha’s evolving menu
Meat is central to Eid al-Adha. Traditionally, people across the Islamic world marked the holiday by sacrificing a lamb — or goat, cow or camel, depending on the region — at home and dividing it among friends, family and the needy. But celebrations are starting to look different as a younger generation adapts for changing seasons, laws and local tastes, Reem Kassis writes for The Times.
Breakfast was the highlight of Eid al-Adha for Areej Bazzari, who grew up in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The star of her family’s holiday table was offal — braised with garlic, fried with onion or mixed with eggs. Since her family moved to California, though, Eid al-Adha has meant a large get-together of family and friends, with nontraditional dishes like fattehs and shushbarak.
Nadia Hamila’s main dish for the holiday is mechoui, a slow-roasted leg of lamb. But side dishes will lean more toward salads and vegetables — lighter, summer fare. “I’m a strong believer that traditions have to adapt,” she said.
This Eid al-Adha is tentatively set for Tuesday, July 20. Read the rest of the story. — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer