Texas voting rights at stake in advance of John Lewis Voting Rights Act

When he served as Texas attorney general during the Obama administration, now-Gov. Greg Abbott famously bragged that “I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home.” Texas grit, served hot! 

I identify with that quintessentially Texas spirit: plucky, proud, independent. In fact, I also go to work and sue the government — the one Texas Gov. Abbott now heads. And I’m always quick to agree that democracy is loud and messy by design, but what is happening in Texas right now transcends any reasonable debate on policy. It’s a full-frontal attack on voting rights by a governing power seemingly hell-bent on silencing the voices of Texas voters, particularly those in Black and brown communities. 

And it necessitates drastic actions in response — even beyond the state. 

Abbott and his allies have gone to extraordinary lengths this summer to try to force into law an unpopular buffet of new restrictions on voting, with little to no opportunity for community input.

In May, after thousands of Texans put on their masks and filled the Capitol to object, after deals were struck and broken, and after lawmakers left the House floor to deny the chamber a quorum, his bills failed to pass out of the regular legislative session. As a result, Gov. Abbott issued a vindictive, dubiously legal line-item veto to defund the entire Texas Legislature and called a special session to take back up his unpopular voting restrictions.

Let’s be clear: The proposed measures do not serve any discernible policy purpose. The top election official for the state of Texas (a Republican) testified under oath that our 2020 election was “smooth and secure,” even as turnout reached record levels. 

In fact, the Republican attorney general of Texas devoted over 22,000 staff hours to hunting for supposed voter fraud in the 2020 elections. The result? He came up with 16 instances of minor irregularities — specifically, 16 voters putting down an incorrect address. That’s out of over 11.2 million ballots cast in the 2020 elections, meaning you’re nearly twice as likely to be struck by lightning than you are to encounter an instance of voter ‘fraud’ (if you can even call it that) in Texas.

What the measures actually do is make voting more difficult for all Texans, and particularly voters of color, people with disabilities or folks who are more comfortable speaking a language other than English. Abbott’s bills would give partisan poll watchers a get out of jail free card to intimidate voters as they cast their ballot. They would ban drive-thru early voting and 24-hour early voting; despite a lack of evidence that these voting options are more susceptible to fraud. In actuality, data we’ve compiled at the Texas Civil Rights Project show that these measures made voting more accessible, and were used disproportionately by Black and brown Texans. 

So then, why is a voter restriction package such a top priority? 

Years ago, people in the highest levels of Texas’ government made a cynical calculation. Faced with rapid population growth — fueled by people of color, immigrant families and young people — politicians like Greg Abbott decided that they would rather barricade access to the polls than hear what these communities have to say. 

And this fall marks a redistricting process in Texas — a fight for the next ten years of political power and fair representation. 2020 Census data reaffirms that Texas’ expanded political power continues to come from population growth in communities of color. Yet, in every redistricting cycle in the last half-century, courts have found that Texas violated the Voting Rights Act or intentionally discriminated against communities of color to dilute their vote. This is what we’re up against.

All of this is what forced Texas lawmakers to break quorum and spend weeks in DC, making the case for the only real solution — immediate federal action to protect voting rights nationwide, and for all of us in Texas. 

The pressure now moves on to the United States Senate to uphold our nation’s democracy and guarantee the right to vote for all Americans and pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

While the Texas Civil Rights Project will continue to take the state of Texas to court to protect voting rights locally, federal litigation is lengthy and expensive — too often resolving only after numerous elections have passed. While the organizers we commonly represent will continue to work day in and out, registering, educating and mobilizing voters, new barriers in a state that is already the hardest place to vote will make these efforts increasingly difficult. 

Voting is the essential freedom from which all other American liberties emanate. It is, for our society, the most existential responsibility with which we are empowered. Senators, protecting our country’s right to vote is now on you. The people of Texas want to know, will you stand with us?

Mimi Marziani is president of Texas Civil Rights Project

Tags Electoral fraud Gerrymandering John Lewis Redistricting Voter suppression

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