UPDATE: Texas Republicans abandon key provision voter suppression bill

Late Sunday night, Democratic members of the Texas House left the floor of the legislature, depriving the body of a quorum. The tactic killed the Republicans voter suppression legislation, SB 7, which had to pass by midnight. 

Earlier, Republicans tried to convince Democrats to allow a vote, arguing that it would just delay the inevitable. Future versions of the bill, Republicans said, might be even worse. Fortunately, Democrats ignored this advice and staged the walkout. Now, just a few days later, Texas Republicans are abandoning one of the worst provisions of the bill.

The version of SB 7 that passed the Texas Senate — and was very close to passing the Texas House — would have banned voting before 1 PM on Sundays. This provision was added during the conference committee and not debated in the House or Senate. Critically, this provision would limit the ability of people to vote after attending church services, which is particularly popular in the Black community. The turnout effort is known as "souls to the polls." 

One of the authors of the legislation, Texas Senator Bryan Hughes (R), now says the "intent" of the bill was actually "to increase Sunday voting." Hughes blamed the Texas House for adding the ban on voting before 1 PM at the last minute. But it was actually added during a conference committee of Texas House and Senate members that included Hughes. 

Texas Representative Travis Clardy (R) now says the ban on Sunday voting before 1 PM was a "typo" and should have banned voting before 11 AM. In an interview on CNN, Hughes backed up Clardy's account. 

But the Republicans' claim that this was all a big misunderstanding is not credible. During the debate on SB 7 in the Texas Senate, Hughes explicitly defended the ban on Sunday voting before 1 PM as reasonable and justified. 

"Those election workers want to go to church, too," Hughes said. "And so that's why it says 1 p.m. [and] no later than 9 p.m. You can make Sunday service and go after that."

When Sen. Royce West, a Dallas Democrat, pressed Hughes on that justification, Hughes admitted it wasn't based on conversations with election workers but suggested that "souls to the polls" efforts promoted voting after the lunch hour.

"You can correct me, but souls to the polls — I thought we went to church and ate lunch and then voted," Hughes said.

No Republican in the Texas House or Senate mentioned that there was a drafting error as the bill was debated. 

Although Clardy claimed Republicans intended to only ban voting on Sundays before 11 AM, Hughes now suggests that the limitation may be removed altogether. "11 AM if there is any limit at all," Hughes said, "we want to make sure people aren't limited in what they can do for souls to the polls."

Texas Governor Gregg Abbott (R), who threatened to defund the entire legislature in retaliation for its failure to pass SB 7 on Sunday night, said he also supports limiting or removing the ban. "I don’t want to hinder anybody’s ability to vote on that one Sunday that we do have for early voting, and so I’m amenable to making modifications," Abbott said

The reality is that banning voting before 1 PM on Sundays as part of a "voter integrity" bill is indefensible. It is impossible to argue that votes cast on Sunday morning are more likely to be fraudulent than votes cast on Sunday afternoons. So Republicans attempted to impose the limitation extremely quickly over the holiday weekend. When that failed, they are being forced to abandon the provision because they could not defend it. 

There are many other aspects of SB 7 that target voting in communities of color. The time between now and the next special session of the Texas legislature, which is expected to be a few months, is an important opportunity to provide additional scrutiny to those provisions. 


RIP Trump's blog (May 4, 2021- June 2, 2021)

On Wednesday, former President Trump's blog, From the Desk of Donald J. Trump, was put to rest. It was 29 days old. There will be no funeral and all traces of the blog have been erased from Trump's website.

The cause of death was embarrassment. Trump reportedly "didn’t like that this platform was being mocked and had so few readers." His entire website, including the blog fundraising pages, reportedly "attracted fewer estimated visitors than the pet-adoption service Petfinder and the recipe site Delish."

But while Trump's blog was short-lived, its death can teach us a valuable lesson. Why was the blog so unpopular? After all, Trump posted exactly the same kind of messages that were wildly popular on Twitter and Facebook before Trump was banned from those platforms.

Trump clearly expected that millions of people would flock to his website for this kind of wisdom. But the failure of Trump's blog shows there is not an unquenchable thirst for Trump's rants. Rather, Trump's popularity was artificially boosted by Facebook and Twitter's algorithms, which reward hatred, misinformation, and other divisive content. Outside of this artificial reality created by social networks, Trump's diatribes have little organic appeal. 

It underscores that the fundamental problems with Facebook and Twitter are baked into their algorithms and cannot be solved by banning Trump or any individual account. 

Facebook is aware of the problem. Last year the Wall Street Journal reported that senior Facebook executives were warned about the systemic issues with its algorithm:

“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”

That presentation went to the heart of a question dogging Facebook almost since its founding: Does its platform aggravate polarization and tribal behavior?

The answer it found, in some cases, was yes.

Facebook, however, "shelved the basic research" partly due to concerns that "proposed changes would have disproportionately affected conservative users and publishers."

While Trump has been absent from Facebook for months, extreme content continues to thrive. In April, for example, the top publisher on Facebook was the Daily Wire, a far-right website that produces no original reporting. 

The Daily Wire, which employs a few dozen people, received more than four times the distribution of the New York Times, which employs thousands of journalists. Without Facebook's amplification, the Daily Wire's recycled and bigoted content would likely be as popular as Trump's blog.