Fears grow of voter suppression in Texas
Fears that millions of votes could be suppressed are popping up in states across the country, but perhaps nowhere more than Texas — a surprise battleground state where Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden appears to be in a close race with President Trump.
The longtime Republican stronghold, which is home to some 30 million people and the second most electoral votes in the country, sports some of the strictest voting laws in the U.S.
Texas only allows its registered voters to vote absentee if they are 65 or older, incarcerated but otherwise eligible to vote, or can cite a disability.
Texas Democrats have opened multiple legal cases against the state in an attempt to relax restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, but these efforts have largely been to no avail.
While Gov. Greg Abbott (R) extended early voting by a week and made it possible for Texans to turn in by-mail ballots before Election Day, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that lack of immunity to COVID-19 doesn’t qualify as a bona fide disability.
Additionally, a federal appeals court panel in September rejected the Texas Democratic Party’s argument that the state’s 65-plus age requirement was unconstitutional because it violated the 26th Amendment’s protections against voting rules that discriminate based on age. The case is most likely headed to the Supreme Court — where it was rejected earlier in the summer as the justices wanted to see the lower court’s decision first — but it is unclear if it will be taken up before Election Day.
On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court ruled that Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins couldn’t send absentee ballots to all of the county’s registered voters.
This decision comes on the heels of Abbott signing an executive order last week that limits each county in the state to have just one location where mail-in ballots can be dropped off.
“The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections,” Abbott said at the time. “As we work to preserve Texans’ ability to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state. These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”
Republicans have long pointed to the threat of voter fraud to argue for stricter voting laws. In recent months, President Trump and other GOP lawmakers have disparaged by-mail voting, predicting rampant voter fraud and “rigged” election results on Nov. 3.
In reality, however, election fraud is exceedingly rare and multiple states use mail-in voting systems predominantly.
Benjamin Ginsberg, who served as national counsel for multiple GOP presidential campaigns, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in September that claims of significant voter fraud are “unsustainable.”
“At most, there are isolated incidents — by both Democrats and Republicans. Elections are not rigged,” he wrote. “Absentee ballots use the same process as mail-in ballots — different states use different labels for the same process.”
Texas GOP Chairman Allen West, a former congressman from Florida, defended the executive order at the time, saying Abbott “was following his duty to make sure that voter suppression doesn’t happen in Texas.”
He added: “[Hollins] and [Democrats] are responsible for these restrictions, because of their blatant election maleficence such as turning away poll watchers at ballot drop off locations in Harris County.”
It was reported that poll watchers assigned to observe the ballot drop-off locations in Harris County, which has roughly 2.4 million registered voters, were turned away on technicalities, though Hollins in a tweet regarding the executive order said that his office “is more than willing to accommodate poll watchers at drop-off locations.”
The ramifications of Abbott’s decision, if it is not reversed, could be palpable and felt statewide.
Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., is located in Harris County and a crucial foothold for Democrats. The massive county went from having a dozen ballot drop-off locations to having just one. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission says that local governments should have one ballot drop-off location for every 15,000-20,000 registered voters.
Other large metropolitan areas in Texas have proved fruitful to Democrats in their attempt to flip the state blue. Four of the five most populous counties in Texas were won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
“We think [this will] actually backfire on Abbott,” Abhi Rahman, the Texas Democratic Party’s strategic communications director, told The Hill. “He’s trying to do everything he can to stop Texans from voting and Texans are pissed off about it.”
Abbott’s executive order faces multiple lawsuits and has also caught the eye of congressional lawmakers.
A trio of House Democrats, including Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), wrote Abbott on Tuesday, imploring him to waive his executive order.
“We are investigating actions you have taken that may interfere with the administration of free, fair, and safe federal elections in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic,” they said in the letter.
“In particular, we are concerned that your last-minute proclamation forcing Texas counties to close multiple ballot drop-off locations will disenfranchise voters and may increase the risk of exposure to the coronavirus for voters and poll workers. We write today to urge you to reverse this order — which was issued after these locations had begun accepting ballots — and provide documents regarding your decision to restrict early voting by mail in Texas.”