What If They Held An Election In TX And Almost Everyone Voted?
Updated: Oct 28, 2021
The Declaration of Independence asserts that a government is legitimate only if it enjoys the “consent of the governed.” But for much of U.S. history, it hasn’t worked that way. Instead, we the people have had to seek consent from the political party in power to participate.
When consent is denied, we call that voter suppression.
Such disenfranchisement can take many forms. It can be overt – a poll tax or a literacy test, or the use of intimidating poll watchers. Or it can be subtler, such as when local officials curb voting hours, limit the number of polling places and/or drop boxes, or change the mechanics of registration to blunt the influence of certain targeted population groups.
Texas has a long history of using voter suppression tactics to keep certain political parties in power and repress the participation of the majority of eligible voters. The history of post-Civil War voter suppression is legendary in its mistreatment of Black Americans. Texas was recently ranked 50th in the nation by the Election Law Journal for ease of voting.
Voter Suppression in Recent History
In more recent times, it seems that whenever the Democratic party’s fortunes are on the rise, the fear of voter fraud gets whipped up by the GOP. That was the case in 1964 with the massive number of GOP poll watchers and the warnings distributed to Black Americans that they could be arrested at the polls.
Fast forward to 2008, when Barack Obama won Harris County, Texas, by a thin margin despite the efforts of the King Street Patriots.
It happened again in 2010 when Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott killed the Houston-based True the Vote organization based on false information. In 2013, Texas Tea Party leader Ken Emanuelson was asked at a Dallas County GOP event how the Republican party was reaching out to Black voters. He spoke the bold-faced truth: “I’m going to be real honest with you. The Republican party doesn’t want Black people to vote if they are going to vote nine to one for Democrats.”
There was the debacle of the new voter ID law in 2016, followed by the report in 2017 of the effect of gerrymandering of electoral districts since 2011, for which the only plausible motivation was to dilute the effect of larger blueish population centers.
In 2019, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley instructed local officials to investigate some 100,000 Texans who his office said voted illegally; it turned out the list was mostly naturalized citizens who had every right to vote. Later that year, a federal judge rebuked Texas yet again for violating federal “motor voter” laws even as the Legislature effectively prohibited the use of temporary voting sites during early voting, which targeted the suppression of young voters on college campuses. Lawmakers have also kept up an aggressive campaign to punish minor violations of election law with severe sentences.
In 2020, we had the really Big Lie, followed by the GOP’s attempts to overturn the voice of the majority of voters in several swing states and culminating with the emergence of fanatical elements participating in the attempted Jan. 6th insurrection. This insurrection was way too close to succeeding and bringing down our democracy.
Meanwhile in Texas, the GOP kept control by holding the state House and thus control of the redistricting process in 2021. Given that Election Data Services estimates Texas will have 39 congressional seats for the next decade, this was arguably Republicans’ single biggest win of the 2020 election. We will know for sure after the 2020 census results are finally published later this year.
Harris County became another target of GOP voter suppression on Oct. 1, 2020, when Gov. Abbott ordered Texas counties to limit themselves to one drop-off location for mail-in ballots. This made it harder, especially in urban counties, for 4.8 million Harris County residents to turn in their ballots in person.
Moving the Battle to the Big City
Now, the battle is moving to the big city suburbs. The GOP has yet to figure how to suppress votes there, but you can be sure they are working on it.
HB6/SB7 is just the latest in the long war against voter suppression in Texas. The pushback against HB6/SB7 from local leaders, Democrats, big business and voting rights advocates is intense. They’re concerned about groups that Texas has long marginalized — voters of color, voters with disabilities, low-income voters and voters with limited English proficiency.
In practice, our governor has been a big fan of voter fraud for many years. You can be sure that Gov. Abbott will call for a special session of the legislature later this year to re-gerrymander the new house districts in response to the 2020 Census. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that the focus of attention will be the usual populous targets (Harris, Travis, Bexar, Dallas), plus attempts to dilute the voters of Hays, Williamson, Fort Bend and Tarrant counties, since they’ve been trending blueish lately. The whole I-35 corridor in Central Texas is likely to turn blue in the next decade. Whether that trend will spread east and west remains to be seen.