No, that headline is not an exaggeration. The Republicans attack with vote suppression; the Democrats with limiting ballot access. Oddly enough, the author of the democracy-killing mini-bill we're discussing today is Geanie Morrison, an 11-term Republican from Victoria.
One silver lining to this unemployment is that it's easier to call legislators' offices during business hours. I seldom make those calls, preferring to work by email or through one of the "clicktivism" mailing lists I'm on. Today, I called my state representative, Shawn Thierry of HD146, to express my strong opposition to House Bill 4416. If you're neither D nor R, I advise you to do the same ASAP; the session ends in three weeks.
Here is where you can look up your representative's contact information.
The text of HB 4416 is short and not-so-sweet:
A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
relating to the qualifications necessary for a political party to
have the names of its nominees placed on the ballot.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
SECTION 1. Section 181.005(b), Election Code, is amended to
read as follows:
(b) A political party is entitled to have the names of its
nominees placed on the ballot, without qualifying under Subsection
(a), in each subsequent general election following a general
election in which the party had a nominee for a statewide office who
received a number of votes equal to at least 10 [formerly five] percent of
the total number of votes received by all candidates for that
SECTION 2. This Act takes effect September 1, 2019.
Here, read all of Chapter 181 to get all the juicy details Remember that it's easier to understand legalese if you read it aloud.
BAD BILL! VERY BAD BILL!
I thank comrade Katija Gruene for alerting us via Facebook about this bill's progress. In her post, she made it abundantly clear that this is a VERY BAD BILL, but didn't go into the details in her usual complete and concise manner.
kat and others saw this coming as early as January, the start of the legislative session, when HB 4416 was initially filed. The bill was not officially introduced until 4 April (yes, the 51st anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination, but we'll just call that a coincidence).
How bad? As I told Rep. Thierry's staffer in Austin, passing HB 4416 is
- tantamount to outlawing third parties without doing so explicitly, and thus essentially a Voting Rights violation; and
- a sleazy, cynical move taken just after the Libertarians started polling 5% in statewide races against candidates from both corporate parties.
The breach of the 5% threshold happened in 2016, when Railroad Commission candidate Mark Miller crossed that line. Before then, there had been plenty of instances in recent decades of Libertarians and Greens finishing well above 5%, but only when one of the major parties didn't show up (almost always the Democrats, since Republicans have won every statewide race since 1996). In 2018, the Democrats couldn't find anyone to run for Court of Criminal Appeals Place 8, and thus Libertarian Mark Ash took more than 25%.
Litigation May Be Necessary
If this bill becomes law, I can foresee a coalition led by Texans for Voter Choice taking the matter to court to get it overturned. The partisan duopoly in the Lege will not easily be convinced to reverse themselves; the mostly Republican judiciary in this state may be easier to persuade.
Are there more immediately critical issues for the Legislature to address? Hell yeah. Here's just one example: Thierry herself has led the fight to reduce maternal mortality in this state, with some bipartisan help. (In fairness, we should point out that some of the statistics have been revealed to be overstated, but the actual figures are still awfully high for such a wealthy state—and they're still increasing.)
However, if the Duopoly is left free to run the table, policy will reflect that; it's even worse when
- one of the parties is so dominant, while the other is so ineffectual;
- the dominant party is drawing the district maps; and
- when those maps often result in legislative candidates running unopposed.
Say it loud, say it clear: Limiting choices on the ballot hurts democracy. And democracy in Texas is already on life support.
If I still had a job, I'd be writing Texans for Voter Choice a pretty big check right now.