The Notly-Anticipated Debut Of The Texas Voting Law | Crooked Media
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February 15, 2022
What A Day
The Notly-Anticipated Debut Of The Texas Voting Law

In This Episode

  • Monday marked the start of in-person early voting in Texas ahead of the state’s March 1st primary. Texas is just one of nearly 20 states that will hold elections this year with more restrictive voting laws in place, a result of Republican-led efforts to validate former President Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential election. James Slattery, a senior staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, joins us to discuss what’s happening in the state, what’s to come and what the rest of the country can anticipate as we head into the midterm elections.
  • And in headlines: The U.S. closed its embassy in Kyiv, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the country’s Emergencies Act for the first time ever, and a judge said he would throw out Sarah Palin’s defamation suit against the New York Times.

 

Show Notes:

 

 

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Transcript

 

Gideon Resnick: It’s Tuesday, February 15th. I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, the podcast that got in between Kanye West and Julia Fox because they were both so in love with it.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yes, do not believe the tabloids. They broke up because of a love triangle involving our podcast.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: In addition to news, we are interested in home-wrecking.

 

Gideon Resnick: We embrace chaos at WAD.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: It’s true.

 

Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, the U.S. relocated its embassy in Ukraine for the safety of diplomats. Plus, Canada’s Justin Trudeau invoked a never-used act to override certain civil rights and to clear out protesters.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: But first, yesterday marked the start of in-person early voting in Texas ahead of the state’s March 1st primary. It also gave the rest of the country the first look at the effects of Senate Bill 1, the state’s restrictive voting legislation. One of many bills to be introduced after the 2020 presidential election, SB1 banned drive-thru and overnight early voting hours, made already difficult and restrictive vote by mail rules all the more, so gave partisan poll watchers more freedom inside polling locations, and established criminal penalties for certain kinds of voter assistance. It’s all very bad. This was the bill that was so contentious that it led to a Democratic walkout from the Legislature last year.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and the results so far have been as bad as we, and I think, everybody else has come to expect, if not even worse. There are countless stories of mail-in ballots being rejected. In Harris County, for instance, that’s home to Houston and also the third biggest county in the entire country, election officials said an astonishing 40% of ballots reviewed as of late last week had been sent back. And Texas is just one of nearly 20 states that will hold elections this year, with more restrictive voting laws in place, a direct result of Republican-led efforts to validate former President Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential election. So for more on what is happening in the state, what’s to come, and what the rest of the country can anticipate, we have with us today, James Slattery, a senior staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. Welcome to What A Day.

 

James Slattery: Thanks for having me.

 

Gideon Resnick: So there have been tons of reports of voters across Texas having their mail ballots returned already in advance of yesterday. How does that relate to the passage of SB1, and what other impact is SB1 already having in the state?

 

James Slattery: It is a direct impact of Senate Bill 1. Among its many provisions—it’s a 76-page bill—the problems we’re seeing now emanate from a new requirement that voters put essentially their Texas driver’s license number on their vote-by-mail application and their ballot, and that number has to match what is in their official voter registration file. And basically, everything that could go wrong with this process, is going wrong. So voters are putting down their driver’s license number just like they’re supposed to, but the voter registration file has not been updated by the State Elections Office to include that information. Or voters are simply not seeing this on the form. Some people are even using older versions of the forms that they have found online that of course, do not have the fields. And so that’s what’s driving this, and it’s going to drive a lot of other malfunctions, we think.

 

Gideon Resnick: And we saw an unbelievable statistic that more than a quarter of absentee ballots that were mailed to Dallas County election officials as of last Thursday have been rejected. That’s according to the Dallas County Election Administrator’s Office. Have you ever seen or heard of that many absentee ballots being rejected?

 

James Slattery: Not in a democracy that’s doing a free and fair election. Like, that is the kind of thing that you see regularly in an authoritarian state. And I don’t say that lightly. I think that the voter suppression that we’re seeing in Texas and elsewhere is now reaching the level that really you have to question, is this a free and fair election if 28, 30, 40% of mail ballots are being rejected?

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s crazy.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that’s a shocking, shocking statistic. And look, it was already hard to vote in Texas. Can you walk us through how it was made even more difficult after these restrictive laws were passed last year?

 

James Slattery: Yeah. And so I think it’s important to dwell on that just a moment that it was bad enough already. So according to a landmark study in 2020 that measured how hard it is to vote in each state, they found that Texas was the hardest place to vote already in the entire country. Things that voters elsewhere take for granted, we don’t have. We don’t have online voter registration. Only a few Texas voters get to vote by mail. You have to fall into one of a couple narrow categories and you have to be registered to vote at least 30 days in advance of the election, which is the maximum amount of time that federal law allows the state to do that.  SB1 just turbocharged that situation. So the new vote by mail requirement that we’re seeing that is problematic. It gives expansive new protections and powers to partisan poll watchers who have a notorious history of being partisan vigilantes against people of color in the polling place. The bill banned drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting, which were used in Houston in 2020, one of the most diverse cities in the country, and used disproportionately by people of color. And it’s no accident that than in the first legislative session after that, they get rid of it.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s mind boggling.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Right. The Texas secretary of state, John Scott, he said in an interview with The Associated Press that he didn’t think these problems would persist for the runoff elections in May or in November. What do you make of that?

 

James Slattery: Well, so John Scott, for those of you, especially outside Texas, who don’t know of him, he is our state’s chief elections officer as of last September. He’s a former “Stop the Steal” lawyer who was part of a litigation in Pennsylvania to try to overturn a free and fair election and install an unelected authoritarian into power. He comes into office late last year and says that his first priority is going to be an election audit, one that Donald Trump publicly pressured and badgered Greg Abbott into ordering. And I think that we are now seeing not just necessarily SB! that is causing all of the problems, but also the fact that the Secretary of State’s Office has prioritized chasing down conspiracy theories and doing Donald Trump’s bidding in this audit rather than fortifying our election systems for this election. Either he saw it coming and just didn’t prepare, or he didn’t see it coming and didn’t prepare. And either way, I wouldn’t trust anything, he says about what May or November are going to be like.

 

Gideon Resnick: I’m curious if there is any sense here of this kind of blowing back in anybody’s face, and what lesson, if anything, do you think other states with later primaries would take from what we’re observing in Texas?

 

James Slattery: The sponsor of Senate Bill 1, Senator Bryan Hughes, who is a key ally of Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, has gone mysteriously missing. In every article in 2022, they know—well, we asked him for comment and we never heard back. Which is quite striking since when Senate Bill 1 was being considered last year, he was omnipresent and always available for comment. And I think that’s pretty telling that people kind of want to try to get their fingerprints off of it. A lesson for people outside of Texas. One is that this is not going to be a Texas-only problem. Texas is a focus right now because the law is genuinely very bad, but we are also nearly the first primary of 2022. And other states, like Georgia has their own bill.  Other states have had other bills. There is no reason to expect that they won’t also have the voter confusion, the voter disenfranchisement that we are seeing now. We are just previewing it for everyone else. I think the other lesson is that we would not be dealing with this at all if Congress had passed a fix to the Voting Rights Act last year.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Absolutely.

 

James Slattery: If the Voting Rights Act had been restored, the process known as pre-clearance would have blocked this law, and voters wouldn’t be suffering. And voters are suffering because 50 Republican senators and Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema said that the filibuster was more important than voting rights, and these voters are the ones being harmed for that choice.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s incredibly infuriating. According to a January and February CNN poll, there was something like 56% of respondents saying they have little or no confidence in American elections reflect the will of the people. There’s a lot to unpack there I’m sure for why people are saying that, but what do you say to people who lack confidence in our elections today?

 

James Slattery: Well, one I would say is that Texas Secretary of State under its predecessor testified before the Legislature that even they thought the 2020 election was smooth and secure. And there’s been no evidence of any widespread fraud, any tampering with the elections process. I would also say, quite truthfully, that this is a concerted campaign to create doubt, to sow mistrust in the election system, and we saw the effects of that in the Legislature, where people would come up and testify and say all kinds of crazy conspiracy theories for why elections should be restricted. And it’s all part of a systematic campaign to, I think, get people used to the idea that elections are not necessarily what chooses leaders in this country, that you can instead have a legislature, for instance, select an alternate slate of electors, and that’s the person who becomes president. It could not be a more dangerous campaign than what we’re seeing right now.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we really appreciate that, James. Thank you so much.

 

James Slattery: Yeah, no. Thank you for spending time with us virtually here in Texas.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: We are unfortunately going to have to keep talking about this very soon, but that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.

 

[ad break]

 

Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.

 

[sung] Headlines.

 

Gideon Resnick: Some updates on the Ukraine crisis: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he was told that Russian forces would invade the country on February 16th. Now the comment sparked international concern, but seems to have been lost in some translation. Zelensky’s spokesman later clarified that the president was only referencing a date circulated by the media and did not mean what he said literally. There was some talk of this being an ironic thing. I don’t really know. Still, the U.S. is preparing for a Russian invasion that its forces believe could happen any day now. Yesterday, the country closed its embassy in Kiev—that’s Ukraine’s capital—and announced that it would move its diplomats to a city further west in the country. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday as well that the move was out of concern for their safety due to the quote, “dramatic acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces.” Blinken is referring to the hundreds of thousands of troops that Russia has amassed at Ukraine’s border in recent days. Even so, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday that diplomatic efforts with the West are, quote “far from exhausted” and that he wanted them to continue in the coming days.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took the unprecedented step yesterday of invoking the country’s Emergencies Act for the first time ever. It gives the federal government the very scary sounding, or just very scary, power to override people’s civil rights to free movement or assembly. Trudeau promises that he only plans to give police more legal tools to clear out the anti-vax blockades and protesters that have overtaken the country for weeks.

 

[clip of PM Justin Trudeau] These tools include strengthening their ability to impose fines or imprisonment.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, Gideon, I’m not a fan of this, I gotta say. Never great when the government’s like, don’t worry, we’ll only use it against people we don’t like. If protesters need to pay off fines, they might not be able to count on the $9 million that were raised for them on the crowdfunding platform, GiveSendGo. That site, which describes itself as the number one free Christian crowdfunding site—a lot of variables there—was hacked and disabled yesterday, and the hackers leaked info on the donors as well, revealing that more than half of them are from the US. If you’re wondering what kind of person would send their hard-earned Benjamins, Washingtons, and Lincolns to another country’s vaccine protest, here’s the message Travis Moore of Idaho sent with his $17,000 donation, quote, “Let freedom ring brothers of the north. Cryptocurrency is the future.” So was he really sending Benjamins, Washingtons, and Lincolns, or was he sending . . . ?

 

Gideon Resnick: Ethereum. Dogecoin.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Right.

 

Gideon Resnick: Various other means? Yeah, we don’t really know what his, what is Coinbase wallet was looking like. I got to say, yeah, every person mentioned in that headline, everything . . . was not a fan of.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: It wasn’t good. I don’t like anything involved.

 

Gideon Resnick: No. No. In other news: baby got back . . .  to Alaska, that is, because a federal judge said that he would throw out Sarah Palin’s defamation suit against The New York Times after determining that her counsel did not provide enough evidence to support her libel case. For those of you who didn’t follow my joke earlier, it’s in reference to Baby Got Back, which Palin once rapped on The Masked Singer. I added “to Alaska” because that’s where she was once governor. But I digress. Palin filed her suit in 2017, claiming that The Times defamed her by unfairly linking her to a mass shooting. But District Judge Jed Rakoff said that he would dismiss the case entirely after the jury reached a verdict as it had already begun deliberating when he announced his decision. In other news about the harrowing collision between conservatives and things that are printed on paper, former President Donald Trump’s longtime accounting firm cut ties with him last week. The firm Mazars USA—not to be confused with Zabar’s, but it sounds similar in my head—announced the split in a letter to the Trump Organization, saying it could no longer stand behind the annual financial statements it prepared for the former president. Now, these statements are crucial to New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil investigation into whether or not Trump unlawfully inflated the value of his assets for financial gain. In a statement, James said of the letter quote, “The evidence continues to mount, showing that Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization used fraudulent and misleading financial statements to obtain economic benefit.”

 

Josie Duffy Rice: I really hope my accountant never says they can’t stand by the work they did for me. That would be—

 

Gideon Resnick: You don’t want to hear that right? Yeah, it’s not encouraging.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: That sounds like the worst thing to hear. Gideon, here’s your regular reminder that words have power: thousands of baptisms performed by one Catholic priest over the past 25 years have officially been classified as invalid by the Diocese of Phoenix.

 

Gideon Resnick: Oh no.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Meaning the people who received them were never truly admitted into the church because the priest mistakenly changed ONE word while administering the ritual.

 

Gideon Resnick: Get out of here.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Last month, recognition of this error led to the resignation of the priest, Reverend Andres Arango. Specifically, Arango had been saying “We baptize you” instead of “I baptize you.” Like many of us, he forgot part of an important password, only in this case it was a password that devout Catholic people need to log-in to heaven.

 

Gideon Resnick: Oh no.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: The Vatican has weighed in on the “we” versus “I” issue before making it very clear that the substitution is not acceptable and that those who are baptized this way must get re-baptized.

 

Gideon Resnick: Wow.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Suffice it to say, lots of people in the greater Phoenix area will be taking a dip in the near future, along with people in San Diego and Brazil, where Arango previously had parishes. But even greater questions loom, such as whether people who were baptized by father Arongo and then got married can officially consider their marriage as valid in the eyes of the church. On this question, the Diocese of Phoenix has weighed in with a not so comforting quote, “Maybe.” Maybe.

 

Gideon Resnick: Tough.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: That’s what they said. Maybe.

 

Gideon Resnick: Maybe. Your marriages are valid in the eyes of the Church of WAD

 

Josie Duffy Rice: We baptize all of you in the Church of WAD.

 

Gideon Resnick: Exactly. We’re allowed to say we are because we are not Catholic priests. But if you are a Catholic priest, I think you should be sure to say I, which is the lesson that we are trying to impart from reading the news. And those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, use your words carefully if you are representing a religion, and tell your friends to listen.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are into reading, and not just messages of support/endorsements of cryptocurrency like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.

 

Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

[together] And baby get back to Alaska, Sarah Palin.

 

Gideon Resnick: That’s right. You can eat at another Italian restaurant there that may not check your vaccination status.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: That’s true. They don’t care.

 

Gideon Resnick: And be comfortable. Yeah, but please also—

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Get vaccinated.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, don’t walk in with COVID anywhere. Thank you.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Right.

 

Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.