Did you vote in the 2020 elections? Good, because a lot of Texans couldn’t. We have all sorts of barriers to keep certain people from voting – laws, land mines, barbed wire and snide comments from voting precinct workers. How tough is it to cast a ballot in the Lone Star State? A new study from Northern Illinois University finds Texas has the most restrictive voting laws in the country. We’re Number One! The transparent reason is that the Republicans, who control our state, think a low voter turnout helps them win. That is not necessarily true, but our GOP brethren (and cistern) believe that, along with Big Foot, leprechauns and Fox News.
They are also afraid of voter fraud, which, as Gov. Greg Abbott has charged, is “rampant” in Texas. This groundless scare has led to all sorts of schemes. In 2019, David Whitley, nominated to be Texas Secretary of State, discovered that approximately “95,000 individuals identified” as non-citizens were registered to vote, “58,000 of whom have voted.” Alas, many if not most of those 95,000 had become citizens who could legally vote. Whitley didn’t get the job. During the midterm election in 2018, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project, long lines, voter intimidation, voting machine malfunctions and other issues afflicted almost 278,000 Texans. By “afflicted,” I think that means hurdles, in some cases, unable to vote.
Unlike in 21 states and Washington D.C., there is no same-day voter registration in Texas. To vote in the last elections, Texans had to register roughly a month in advance. In Harris County -- which has the most COVID-19 cases and fatalities in the state – the county clerk tried to send mail-in ballot applications to all voters. Our ace state attorney general, Ken (still under indictment) Paxton, said that was illegal, and his opinion was upheld by the State Supreme Court. Texas also doesn’t provide online voter registration, unlike a vast majority of states. Only Texans who are U.S. citizens and undergo training can be appointed as volunteer deputy registrars and register others to vote. Texas is also the only state that requires people to be deputized to conduct a voter drive. There is no statewide certification, so volunteers cannot sign up voters from counties where they are not already sanctioned, out of 254 counties across the state.
But Abbott’s most transparent blow to voting early was his one-box-fits-all decree: “To protect voter integrity,” Abbott ruled that only a single location in each county could be designated where absentee ballots could be dropped off. Although Abbott issued a state-wide mask mandate, his order specifically exempted polling places. During the primary, some poll workers left their polling site in Collin County after Republican workers refused to wear masks.
Because we have counties that measure more than 6,000 square miles, a single delivery location would leave some voters having to drive well more than an hour to deliver their vote. Harris County has 4.7 million people spread out across 1,729 square miles with 2.4 million registered voters. The county had to reduce its 11 drop-off locations down to one. Travis County cut its four drop-off locations to one. It may get worse. For the current session of the Texas Legislature, Gov. Abbott has declared “election security” an emergency item.
Yet another ploy is redistricting legislative and Congressional districts, which the Texas Legislature will also be considering, maybe in a special session this summer because the U.S. Census is running behind schedule due to the virus. Texas will probably get three new U.S. representatives. Allen West, chairman of the Texas GOP, advised Republican legislators: “They must realize this strategic opportunity and not concern themselves with ‘fairness’ to the progressive socialist left.” After the districts are redrawn, bet which party gets them? Texas’ Congressional districts already look like a Rorschach test. For example, Travis County is divided into five Congressional districts. One runs from Austin to Houston, another runs to Mexico.
Finally, in the 2016 presidential elections, 3,877,868 (43 percent) Texans voted for Hillary Clinton, but because of Texas’ winner-take-all in the Electoral College, all 38 of our votes went to Donald Trump. In our last presidential election, those 5,259,126 (47 percent) votes for Joe Biden were ignored.
Considering all the barriers Texas places between registered voters and those who actually get to vote, no wonder Texas ranks 43rd among the states in voter turnout.
Santa Anna was right – Texas isn’t ready for self-government.
Ashby still votes at firstname.lastname@example.org