Dan Patrick and the damaged Republican psyche

There is no greater proponent of Trump's false claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election than Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R). Patrick described Trump's wild claims of rigged voting machines and stuffed drop boxes as "not only essential to determine the outcome of this election," but "essential to maintain our democracy and restore faith in future elections." Patrick was so convinced there was a cover-up of the real election results that, a week after the election, he offered a $1 million reward "to incentivize, encourage and reward people to come forward and report voter fraud." Patrick also supported a lawsuit, filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at the Supreme Court, to throw out election results in four states won by Biden. 

None of that worked, and now Patrick is turning his attention to passing Senate Bill 7 (SB 7) in the Texas legislature, a measure to restrict voting in Texas. Trump won Texas and there is no evidence of any significant voter fraud in the 2020 election. Paxton devoted 22,000 hours to investigating potential voter fraud and ended up finding 16 cases of people who listed invalid addresses on their voter registration forms. But, even though Texas already has the strictest voting laws in the country, Patrick and his allies are determined to make voting even more difficult.

This effort has hit some snags. Corporations, including iconic Texas companies like American Airlines and Dell, have come out in opposition to the law. Some Republicans in the legislature are expressing doubts. "I don’t know if the measures that are being talked about are necessary,” Texas Representative Kyle Kacal (R) said this week. "I don’t know how much fraud there really is, but people need the opportunity to vote." Texas Representative Lyle Larson has also suggested he’s leaning against the bill. The new Speaker of the Texas House, Dade Phelan (R), has not publicly supported the legislation. Republicans can only afford to lose nine Republicans in the House and still pass the bill. 

All of this has Patrick and other Republicans agitated. Patrick let out his frustrations in a wild 35-minute press conference on Tuesday in which he berated a reporter for asking a "stupid question," excoriated American Airlines, and repeatedly lied about his efforts to restrict voting in Texas. 

Trust the system

According to Patrick, SB 7 is needed because “Americans no longer trust the system.”

A country where voters do not trust the system is a country in peril, particularly when you’re a Republic, when you’re a Democracy... [I]n 2020, there’s a large percentage of Americans who do not believe in the outcome of this election... [P]eople in America have lost faith in the election, in the outcome and we have to resolve that issue in this country and in this state. And that’s why Senate Bill 7 is needed.

Yet, Patrick failed to acknowledge his role in eroding public trust before and after Election Day. 

In May 2020, as officials in the state worked on expanding mail-in voting in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Patrick called these efforts “the greatest scam ever” by Democrats and said that it “will destroy America if we allow it to happen.” In June 2020, Patrick said on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show that expanded mail-in voting would spur the demise of democracy :

We’re not going to put up with it. And if they get away with it, Laura, if they get it, it’s the end of democracy. It’s not just the end of this presidential campaign. If they get away with this, democracy has been shredded.

Just days before the election, Patrick stated on live television that if Trump “loses Pennsylvania or North Carolina… or Florida, they'll lose it because [Democrats] stole it.” 

Then, after the election, Patrick offered a cash reward for evidence of voter fraud. But even with a million-dollar cash reward on the line, Patrick has yet to provide evidence to back his allegations of fraud. His justification of SB 7 rests on the mere perception of fraud as opposed to its actual existence — a perception he played a big role in creating. 

At the press conference, Patrick acknowledged that evidence of voter fraud is virtually nonexistent. Yet, he is still confident it is happening. “Mail-in ballot fraud is so hard to catch and to prove, but Democrats and Republicans alike know it exists, and that’s why we have to secure our mail-in ballot,” he said.

Patrick's big lie

Patrick also claimed that the criticism of the bill was unwarranted because it changed nothing about any aspect of the voting process in Texas:

Nothing has changed for mail-in ballots, Election Day, or early voting and anyone who says differently is lying to you––whether they write with a pen, talk with a microphone, or hold political office.

If that's the case, why is anyone objecting to SB 7? The reason is that Patrick was lying. Later in the same press conference, Patrick detailed legal changes SB 7 would make to mail-in, Election Day, and early voting in Texas. Patrick freely admitted that these changes were specifically targeted at Harris County, the largest in Texas, which includes Houston. It has one of the largest concentrations of Black voters in the state.

First, the bill would ban drive-thru voting in Texas. 127,000 voters in Harris County cast their votes early in drive-thru locations in 2020. And others voted at a drive-thru location on Election Day. Republicans sued to invalidate the votes but lost. Patrick claimed he is actually doing people of color a favor because most don't own cars. 

Harris County does not make policy and create law for the other 253 Texas counties. Out of thin air, they decided on drive-in voting. But if they’re worried about people of color on the Democrats side who came up with this drive-in voting, statistics show that more people of color don’t have cars than not. So, how’d they help those folks? 

SB 7 would make other important changes to in-person voting. It would require countywide polling locations to have a roughly equal number of voting machines, effectively banning the use of arenas as mega-polling locations. Arenas were used in cities across Texas to reduce lines and increase safety across the state. It would also allow observers to film voters at polling locations, which could subject voters to intimidation and harassment. 

Second, SB 7 would outlaw 24-hour voting locations anywhere in the state. In 2020, Harris County operated eight 24-hour voting locations. The practice helps reduce early voting lines and provides opportunities to vote for people who work odd hours. "Hopefully in the future, dozens of counties follow our lead and offer a night of 24-hour voting to support their voters," Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said. Patrick, without citing evidence, claimed these locations were insecure.

24-hour voting--once again they pulled it out of thin air. That’s not in state law. They just made it up. It’s hard to secure...it’s hard enough getting poll watchers for Democrat campaigners and Republican campaigners, and volunteers to run all the election precincts and polling places as it is.

Third, Harris County also sent absentee ballot applications to all residents 65 or older. (The county attempted to send them to all voters but was blocked by the Texas Supreme Court.) SB 7 would prohibit sending anyone a ballot application they didn't specifically request. Patrick asserts, without evidence, that sending applications to registered voters invites fraud. He raised the specter of dead people voting, a favorite tactic of Trump. 

People say: “Well, Dan, why wouldn’t you want to send a ballot to everyone out there?” Because people move, people die, ballots go to homes and apartments where the voter no longer lives… Addresses aren’t always updated, so you have thousands or millions of votes potentially going out to homes where the people have died or have moved. 

SB 7 would also prohibit the use of drop boxes to return mail-in ballots. 

So, despite Patrick's angry denials, SB 7 imposes significant new restrictions on early, Election Day, and mail-in voting. "Everything I said today is true. Every fact I gave you is correct. And, if I’m off a number and I misspoke, I’ll correct it," Patrick insisted. 

The not-so-friendly skies

Echoing Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Patrick said that companies that speak out against voting restrictions should expect payback. American Airlines issued a statement saying they were "strongly opposed" to SB 7 and "others like it." The company said it had an obligation to "honor the sacrifices made by generations of Americans to protect and expand the right to vote."

Now that American Airlines has spoken, Patrick warned the company not to come to him and Governor Abbott with "their hand out" because that's not "the way we do business." 

[T]hey might come down the street next session and have a bill they want us to pass for them. Good luck. We’ll treat them fairly like we always would, but as Governor Abbott said on Fox earlier this morning, we have brought a lot of businesses to Texas and they come here because we’re the best state to do business in. But if they think they’re going to attack the legislature on issues they have no knowledge about and come to us with their hand out, well that’s just not going to be the way we do business...We’re not going to put up with it anymore. 

Patrick referred to American Airlines derisively throughout the press conference, frequently asking rhetorically if "Mr. American Airlines" would approve of various aspects of the bill. He also repeatedly claimed that no one at American Airlines read the bill, which the company denies

The last question

After a lengthy soliloquy, Patrick took a few questions from the press. Christian Flores, a reporter for CBS News, asked if he planned on giving the $1 million reward to Pennsylvania Lt. Governor John Fetterman (D), who provided Patrick with evidence that a Trump supporter in Pennsylvania tried to cast an illegal vote

"Don't ask me a stupid question," Patrick said. "I didn't come here to take stupid questions from the media." 

And with that, the press conference was over.