Whitley Sinks, Voting Rights Don't
Abbott's SoS nominee resigns as extreme voter suppression bill tanks
The legislative session kicked off under the cloud of an attack on voting rights. In January, newly appointed Secretary of State David Whitley, a longtime aide to Abbott, initiated a statewide purge of voter rolls, claiming they contained nearly 100,000 potential noncitizens, more than half of whom had actually cast ballots. While the GOP noise machine, up to and including President Trump, cranked up its voter-fraud sirens, it turned out that Whitley's list was deeply flawed, with many of the voters in question being naturalized citizens. Three lawsuits were filed against Whitley and other state officials over what was seen as a discriminatory maneuver meant to intimidate minority voters in what has become a Texas tradition. Throughout the session, Abbott's nomination of Whitley as SoS awaited confirmation by the Senate, which required a two-thirds majority that would have to include some Democrats, all 12 of whom stood united to block Whitley's path. In the end, the nomination never made it to the floor of the full Senate, and the embattled SoS resigned his post in the final hours of the session.
Meanwhile, voting rights advocates shifted their attention to another attack – SB 9, again from Bryan Hughes – which would have criminalized innocuous mistakes on voter forms as state jail felonies with prison time and fines of up to $10,000. This "election integrity" measure would also have added barriers to assisting elderly or disabled voters at the polls and given Attorney General Ken Paxton, himself under felony indictment, direct access to state voter rolls. Civil rights groups slammed SB 9 as one of the harshest voter suppression bills in the country; more than 200 citizens signed up to testify against it at the House Elections Committee, with nearly 8,000 signing a petition against it. The overwhelming opposition and organizing paid off, as SB 9 died before making it to the House floor.