Opinion: We Must Not Turn Back the Clock on Voting Rights
Parties should be competing to win more votes, not working to keep voting down
The country watched as Democratic Texas lawmakers walked out of a legislative session in protest of an extreme anti-voter bill. While this action halted the assault on voting rights temporarily, Gov. Greg Abbott has already threatened to call a special legislative session on what he calls "election integrity."
Let's make no mistake: "Election integrity" is simply an excuse to pass draconian restrictions to suppress access to voting for some Texans. The truth is that the proposed bill, Senate Bill 7, would add new barriers that would disproportionately affect Black and brown communities, as well as disabled Texans.
This isn't the way democracy is supposed to work.
Last year, election officials across the country introduced new initiatives, like drive-through voting and mail ballots, that allowed for an unprecedented increase in voter engagement amid a deadly pandemic. Local leaders also implemented extraordinary measures to ensure a safe and secure election. The state then shattered voting records, posting the highest turnout recorded in nearly 30 years while drawing in an electorate that was younger and more diverse. Americans of all political stripes should be proud.
This voting surge happened despite last-minute efforts by state leaders to make voting harder. Gov. Abbott even made the unnecessary decision to limit secure, absentee drop boxes to one per county, regardless of a county's size. If only these state leaders had put as much effort into trying to suppress a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of Texans as they are into trying to suppress the vote.
SB 7 goes even further. The current version would ban 24-hour voting centers and drive-through voting. These provisions will make voting harder and lines longer, particularly in large urban counties where many Black and brown Texans live. Another provision would restrict early voting on Sundays, threatening "souls to the polls" efforts which encourage Black churchgoers to vote after service. And the bills even create new bureaucratic rules that make it harder for disabled Texans to vote.
Frankly, this bill is a throwback to the Jim Crow era when Texas had a number of laws that prevented Black people, especially Black women, from freely voting. Let's not return to those evil days.
The fact is, the steps taken to expand voting during the pandemic resulted in Republicans and Democrats alike voting in record numbers. Nearly 10 million Texans, over half of all registered voters, cast their ballot early, either by mail or in person. Turnout was up across the state, in almost all 254 counties, from small, rural areas like Mason County to fast-growing suburbs outside of Houston and Dallas.
That's democracy at work. Parties should be competing to win more votes, not working to keep voting down.
But the proposed restrictions in Texas are part of a nationwide effort to disenfranchise voters in the wake of the 2020 election. State lawmakers across the country have introduced more than 360 bills to make voting harder. Enacting these harmful voter suppression laws that target the New American Majority – people of color, young people, and unmarried women – is disgraceful, unwarranted, and undemocratic.
The U.S. Congress should immediately pass legislation like the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to make sure every legal citizen has access to the ballot box. Instead of state lawmakers attempting to jam through dangerous restrictions to voting, they should be embracing the fundamental principles behind these two crucial bills.
The overwhelming success of the 2020 election demonstrated that Texas can expand voting access while conducting a fair, secure, and safe election. Gov. Abbott should not turn back the clock on voting rights in the Lone Star State but instead should create a future where more and more Texans can exercise their right to vote and make their voices heard without undue barriers.
Tom Lopach is president and CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Voter Participation Center and Center for Voter Information. Val Benavidez is the president and executive director of the Texas Freedom Network and Texas Rising.
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