President Biden delivered a speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia earlier this week where he talked pointedly about the importance of democracy and free and fair elections.
“The democratic threshold is liberty,” he said. “With it, anything is possible. Without it, nothing—nothing.”
He added, “And for our democracy to work, and to deliver our work for our people, it’s up to all of us to protect that right. This is what I’m here to talk about today.”
So far, so good, and Biden then sought to further validate the results of the election. “The 2020 election—it’s not hyperbole to suggest—the most examined and the fullest expression of the will of the people in the history of this nation.”
But then Biden went on to sound alarms over some of the election law changes being passed or proposed by state legislatures, especially in Texas.
“They (Texas Republicans) want to make it so hard and inconvenient that they hope people don’t vote at all,” Biden declared. “That’s what this is about.” He said the Texas proposals, like efforts in other states, are “The 21st Century Jim Crow.”
Talk about hyperbole.
There is fair and legitimate criticism about some of the election law changes. Efforts to disenfranchise state election boards and shift more responsibility to a partisan state legislature is of particular concern.
The Texas proposals also have flaws.
The House version makes it harder for election officials to police partisan poll watchers. The Senate version subjects election officials to up to 180 days in jail if they knowingly deny access to poll watchers.
Those punitive steps make the election officials’ already difficult job even more challenging as they try to ensure an accurate count.
Other provisions of the Texas proposals are inaccurately termed by critics as “voter suppression.” One would prevent drive-thru polling places that were used during the pandemic. Another would disallow 24-hour voting.
The inability to vote at 3 a.m. is not in the same universe as literacy tests, poll taxes, English language requirements or a brute standing in front of the polling place with a billy club—common practices during the Jim Crow era that kept Black people from voting.
The hyperbole is not confined to President Biden. Vice President Kamala Harris is among those praising the Texas Democratic lawmakers who fled Austin to prevent the Republican-controlled state legislature from passing an election law.
Harris said this week that the legislators, who flew on a private jet to Washington where they have been courted by the national media, are making a “great sacrifice.” She compared them to abolitionist Frederick Douglass and the women’s suffrage movement.
Suggesting that election law changes are tantamount to Jim Crow and comparing coddled state lawmakers with legitimate civil rights heroes is insulting to the many people who have throughout our history engaged in real and prolonged fights for their right to vote.