Don’t Mess With Texas Voters

What’s Happening in Texas Should be a National Wake Up Call

Sam Chavez
Sam Chavez

Table of Contents

Something unprecedented is happening in Texas (or technically outside of Texas). On Monday, Texas Democrats hastily packed their bags, said goodbye to their families, and boarded planes to Washington D.C. where they will stay for at least 30 days in an attempt to block restrictive voting laws from passing in the Texas special session.

Photo cred: Texas Representative James Talarico

The last time action this bold was taken in Texas politics was the stand that Wendy Davis took in her now-iconic pink running shoes when she stood for 13 hours to protest an abortion bill in 2013. I remember that time vividly. It was inspiring to see a woman (and Texan no less) stand up for what she believed in. Plus I had the exact same shoes at the time.

Texas Democrats are receiving national news coverage, but many are asking how did we get here? Did it have to come to this? How bad is the voting bill really?

The short answers to those questions are we got here because of undemocratic efforts by the Texas GOP, yes it did, and it’s pretty damn bad.

How Did We Get Here?

For decades, Democrats have been shut out of power in Texas due to its restrictive voting laws. Now, I’m not suggesting Texas is not a Republican state. At the moment, it is. This was evidenced from the record voter turnout in the 2020 elections where the former guy won 52%, in line with his 2016 results. But Texas demographics are quickly changing. If all Texans were able to vote freely and fairly, we would see the true power of Texas and it would be much more Democratic.

Republicans know this. That is why they are trying to suppress the vote even more than it already is. The GOP is scared. And that’s the most important thing to realize about this situation. It is not Democrats who are taking unprecedented steps, it’s the GOP. Democrats are merely reacting to an undemocratic effort to restrict voting. After the safest election in our history, they are using nonexistent “voter fraud” to restrict voting and lock in their power for decades to come.

Texas is already the most restrictive state in the country for voting. If you vote outside of Texas, you will find many of these rules are ridiculous. They’re systematically designed to make it harder for Black, Brown, and young citizens to vote. Here’s a sample of the restrictions:

  • No online registration: You can’t register to vote online in the year of Mark Zuckerburg, 2021.
  • No same-day registration: You must register to vote 30 days before the election and you cannot register at your polling place on election day.
  • Photo ID: Photo ID is required and the IDs allowed are curious. You can use your handgun license, but not a student ID. Hmmm seems like that rule favors one party over the other...
  • Limited Abenstee: Absentee voting is so restrictive it practically doesn’t exist. Only 65+ and out-of-state Texans can apply and the application is archaic. Why physically mail your application when the internet exists?
  • Polling Places: Texas laws make it very difficult to vote outside of your designated polling place and in 2020 they cut polling places in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods.
  • Purging voter rolls: in 2019, Texas GOP attempted to purge votes that would have disproportionately impacted Latinx voters.

A little voter suppression anecdote, I was caught in Texas’ restrictive voting years ago, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I was purged from the voting rolls without knowing so I showed up at my polling place to vote in a midterm and was turned away. At the time, I was ashamed of myself. How could I have been so stupid to not register to vote? I’ve now come to realize that it was by design and not my fault.

After failing to pass the voter restriction bill during the regular legislative period due to Texas Democrats walking out of the chamber and denying a quorum, Governor Gregg Abbott called a special session to pass very crucial legislation (can you hear the sarcasm?). Here’s what’s on the agenda.

  1. Restrictive voting law to limit Democratic votes.
  2. Censoring American history in public schools to limit the teaching of racism, civil rights, and slavery.
  3. Wasting money on a border wall so that Gregg Abbott can compete with Ron DeSantis for worst GOP governor.
  4. Banning trans children from participating in youth sports.

Conspicuously absent from the agenda is strengthening Texas’ power grid after a winter storm killed 210 Texans. Ironically, the answer to Texas’ energy problems is green energy.

After the agenda was announced and the GOP hastily cleared voter restriction bills through committees on party lines, Texas Democrats were faced with a swift decision. Fight a losing battle in the legislative chamber as the minority or leave the state and deny Republicans a quorum to conduct business. Texas Democrats only have a few cards to play. Republicans have a trifecta, meaning they control the House, Senate, and Governorship. The only real measure Democrats have to combat anti-democratic laws is to deny Republicans a quorum which is exactly what they’re doing.

How Bad is the Voting Bill?

Pretty bad. If you believe that American democracy means that all citizens should have the right to vote, then this bill is not for you. Taking all of the voting restrictions that are currently in place in Texas and adding the following provisions in the bill would put Texas over the top as the worst state for voting.

  • Ban drive-through voting that was instrumental during the pandemic in diverse Houston.
  • Even more limitations on early voting hours that impact shift workers who don’t have the flexibility to take time off to vote.
  • Limit early voting on Sundays when predominantly Black Texans vote.
  • Banning local election officials from sending a vote-by-mail application without requesting one.
  • Require volunteers to fill out paperwork if they want to assist a non-relative to the polls. This will impact elderly Texans who don’t always have family support and aren’t as mobile.

You have to ask yourself why one party wants to make sure fewer people vote?

The scariest part of the bill is the authority it gives to partisan poll watchers. Poll watchers are volunteers who are appointed by a political party or candidate to observe the polls on election day. The bill would give poll watchers latitude to intimidate or harass voters and it would criminally punish poll workers who “intentionally or knowingly refuse to accept a poll watcher.” It’s pretty terrifying to think of an average Texan having to withstand the intimidation of a MAGA supporter just to cast their vote.

What Next?

It’s anyone's guess, but voting rights are back in the national spotlight. Texas Democrats have pledged to stay out of the state until the special session ends in August, but Greg Abbott has promised to call special session after special session until he gets what he wants.

Although their efforts may be futile, they are gaining national attention and pushing national leaders to take voting rights more seriously and that includes eliminating the filibuster to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act which would provide basic national standards to voting.

Joe Biden himself gave a speech on Tuesday in Philadelphia where he took a more aggressive tone saying the “21st Century Jim Crow assault is real.” He went on to say, “we’re facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.”

While Biden sparked the right tone, he did not explicitly call for the end to the filibuster, which is the only way the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and For the People Act can get passed in the Senate. Senator Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Synema have been steadfast in their support of the filibuster despite clear evidence that GOP Senators have no intention of acting in good faith during this presidency. Just this week, some of the GOP have started backing away from the Infrastructure deal that they had agreed to a mere 3 weeks ago.

And before anyone tries to tell you that Texas Democrats are doing this all for show, just look at Rep Erin Zwiener who had to bring her child to D.C. and say goodbye to her husband for the foreseeable future.

Texas Democrats recognize the assault on our democracy through these restrictive voting bills. They might not have the best hand to play, but they’re doing everything they can to make sure that voting is a core tenant in this country.

If you’re moved by their efforts, please consider donating. https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ci-walkout

"We the people will never give up. We will not give in...Guaranteeing the right to vote, ensuring every vote is counted has always been the most patriotic thing we can do. Our vision is clear and our hearts are full. We the people for our democracy, for America itself." - @POTUS
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Sam Chavez

Sam is a writer, strategist, and curious human. She founded the roots of change agency in 2020. Sam is a queer, white, LatinX activist who’s passionate about a livable planet & equitable societies.

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