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Texas could be an unlikely model for Democrats on voting rights

Blue state Democrats need to use every weapon to save voting rights nationally.

In the midst of the ongoing debate over Republicans' siege on voting rights in states they control, here’s an unconventional suggestion: Democratic state legislators should take a page from the Republican playbook and empower private citizens to sue people who are “aiding and abetting” voter suppression efforts.

After all, that’s exactly what the Texas GOP has done with the abortion bill it enacted last year, which effectively bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, despite the fact that our Supreme Court has ruled that women have a constitutional right to abortion until a fetus is viable, which is generally about 24 weeks into pregnancy. As the Supreme Court declared in 1992 in its ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, there’s a “constitutionally protected liberty of the woman to decide to have an abortion before the fetus attains viability and to obtain it without undo interference from the State."

The Texas Republican state officials knew that if they enacted a law where the state played a role in trampling on a woman’s constitutional right to control her own body during that 24-week period, the law would be struck down by the courts. So they passed a bill allowing private citizens to do their work for them — by empowering private citizens to sue not just abortion providers but anyone deemed to be “aiding and abetting” abortions after that six-week mark. If the plaintiff wins the lawsuit, they receive an award of “not less than $10,000” for each abortion the defendant helped “abet” — which must be paid by the defendant.

The term “aiding and abetting” was not defined in the Texas law, leaving it up to the courts to determine the scope. That arguably means potential defendants include anyone who helps a woman receive an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — from doctors to a receptionist at a clinic to anyone who provided funds for the abortion, drove the woman to the clinic or even those who donated to organizations that support such abortions.

Last month, the conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court once again refused to put a stop to the abortion ban, and it continues to slowly wind its way through the courts. Legislators in six other Republican-controlled states have now introduced Texas-style abortion laws.

While personally I believe this law is atrocious, if the GOP is going to use that legal model to infringe on the rights of women, why can’t Democrats use that same tactic to accomplish a monumental goal of their own: protecting voting rights? Democrats cannot simply roll over and let the GOP suppress the vote — and potentially rig elections — because new federal voting rights legislation was recently blocked by way of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate. Democrats need to be tenacious fighters on this all-important issue — and that means using every single tool available.

Why can’t Democrats use that same tactic to accomplish a monumental goal of their own: protecting voting rights?

One way to show that commitment would be for states with Democratic governors and legislatures to enact laws that enable private citizens to sue anyone who is found “aiding and abetting” making it more challenging to vote. And if the person wins, they would be rewarded with $10,000 plus the cost of their legal fees from the defendant for each action they took that “aided and abetted” in restricting voting.

For example, New York could enact a law that enables people to sue any person in the state who is found “aiding and abetting” the GOP’s voter suppression efforts. This arguably would include elected New York Republican officials, such as Rep. Elise Stefanik, who championed former President Donald Trump’s election lies that have been used to justify the voter suppression laws in other states. That includes Stefanik claiming that President Joe Biden’s win in Georgia was because “more than 140,000 votes came from underage, deceased, and otherwise unauthorized voters — in Fulton County alone.” And in May, she was on Steve Bannon’s podcast, where she continued to further Trump’s "big lie."

Lawsuits could also be potentially filed against GOP donors living in New York who give to organizations like the Republican National Committee, which has been vocally opposing federal laws to protect voting rights and continues to recognize Trump as its standard-bearer. This could all arguably be considered “aiding and abetting” the GOP’s voter restriction efforts.

The law could even be crafted so that Republicans in other states who engage in “aiding and abetting” the restriction of voting and do “business” in New York can be sued in the Empire State since it would arguably fulfill jurisdictional requirements. For example, when Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — who touted and signed into law sweeping voting restrictions in his state — traveled to New York in September for a political fundraiser, he was in effect “doing business” in New York by targeting New Yorkers for their donations. And he would be fair game to catch a lawsuit under this hypothetical anti-voting restriction law.

Further justifying this law is that voter restrictions in any state ultimately affect those in blue states since they impact races for federal office, and those federal officeholders in turn can enact laws that impact the entire nation — such as on climate change and gun safety.

Democrats for too long have been fighting an asymmetrical war with a GOP that will use any means available to achieve its political goals.

I get that this sounds unconstitutional and insane — but it’s built in the exact image of the Texas abortion law. A women’s right to abortion in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy is a constitutional right — just like freedom of speech. Given that the GOP-controlled Supreme Court didn’t swiftly strike down the Texas abortion law, it would be hard-pressed to strike down these “protect the vote” laws without exposing itself as being nothing more than an arm of the Republican Party.

Democrats for too long have been fighting an asymmetrical war with a GOP that will use any means available to achieve its political goals — from the Texas abortion law to defunding schools that dare teach topics it doesn’t approve of to literally banning books! In fact, in August, I pleaded — to no avail — with Democrats to condition federal infrastructure funding on states’ protection of the right to vote.

In December, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom floated the idea of a Texas-style law to empower private citizens to sue people who make or sell assault weapons in the state. While as of now no legislation to that effect has been introduced, Newsom is on the right path of using the GOP’s own playbook against them.

Democrats should show the nation — and their base — how deeply they are concerned with voting rights by employing the Texas scheme to protect voting in states they control — even if it’s later struck down by the courts. If the Democrats don’t use every tool available in the fight for voting rights, they may find that large swaths of the Democratic base refuse to fight for them come November.