Voter Suppression is Bigger in Texas

Next up, another state GOP aiming to prevent the future

Welcome to a premium Thursday evening edition of Progressives Everywhere!

Tonight I’ve got a big report on the voter suppression scheme that is quickly unfolding in Texas. Spoiler alert: It’s ugly.

And in other news, what should have been the New York Mets’ first game of the season was suspended earlier today because several members of the Washington Nationals were exposed to COVID-19. In Texas, the governor is allowing baseball teams to fill stadiums to their maximum capacity, so it’s only a matter of time until a whole lot of other teams start getting caught in a nightmare of contact tracing. Play ball!

Voter Suppression: Bigger in Texas

Now that Republican legislators in Georgia and Iowa have codified a new round of racist voter suppression laws, the Texas GOP is taking the baton. At about 2 am this morning, the Texas State Senate passed SB 7, one of two new bills that would severely curtail the voting rights of Black, brown, and disabled voters.

“We had 13 of 13 Democratic senators united in opposition and repeatedly pointing to evidence and testimony about how this bill would disproportionately impact voters of color and impede their right to vote,” says Rose Clouston, Director of Voter Protection for the Texas Democratic Party, about the debate. “The author of the bill was not interested in taking their amendments. We had over 20 amendments that Democratic senators offered to blunt the impact [on voters of color].”

It is already harder to vote in Texas than it is in any other state, so the two bills are meant to further turn the screws on disenfranchisement. Governor Greg Abbott has called over and over this year for an upgrade in “election integrity” even though he’s been unable to name a single instance of voter fraud. Hours after SB 7 passed, the state House of Representatives held committee hearings on HB 6, which Clouston says is just as pernicious in complementary ways.

No surprise: The House committee is run by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, who was one of Donald Trump’s advisers during his attempt to throw out the 2020 election results.

The provisions in the two bills run the gamut, adding limitations, criminal penalties, and hostility to every step of the voting process. Some of the most obvious suppressive elements are a limit on early voting hours, the end of drive-thru voting, and make it a crime for election administrators to send absentee ballot application request forms without one actually being requested. 

These are all part of an effort to put the final nail in the coffin of emergency election measures taken by counties during the pandemic. Texas Republicans sued to stop both Harris County’s drive-thru voting system and its administrators from sending ballot requests to all registered voters; courts allowed the drive-through voting to continue but squashed the proactive ballot request form mailings. Early voting hours would now be mandated to end at 9pm and the 24-hour early voting event run by Harris County would be now banned, as well.

Another proposed new regulation is a ban on counties altering election procedures on their own, making no distinction between dense urban areas such as Dallas or Harris County, home to Houston and its sprawling suburbs, and tiny rural counties.

“Harris is one of the three biggest counties in the nation, then on the other hand, the smallest county in Texas is called Loving County, and I believe they have one polling place and about 180 people,” says Emily Eby, a voting rights lawyer at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “This law would make it illegal for Harris County to run its elections differently than Loving County.”

Other provisions also specifically target counties that tend to both have large minority populations and lean solidly blue. One of them would recalculate how polling places are allocated in counties that have one million voters or more. By basing the distribution on gerrymandered districts, Clouston says, the bill would essentially mandate shifting polling locations from districts with more Black and brown people to districts with more conservative white residents. Likewise, the way they’d allocate voting machines would also wind up tipping the scales further to white conservatives.

Perhaps the scariest and most openly hostile proposal is the broadening of the poll watcher role that went from sleepy volunteer formality to a source of extreme conflict in polling locations across the country. In Texas, both candidates and parties pick poll watchers to oversee elections on their behalf, which gave rabid Trump supporters the ability to hang out all day and loom over voters. With these bills, they’d gain unfettered access and free rein to wreak havoc.

“Poll watchers are supposed to be passive, they are supposed to be off to the side, and [Republicans] are working really hard to make sure that those people can do whatever they want in the polling place, essentially without ever being kicked out,” Eby says. “[In the proposed law] It is a crime to have poll watchers removed for anything that isn't election fraud or direct violence against a voter or the threat of violence against a voter. But we all know that poll watchers are going to go after people of color more than they are going to go after white voters. They're going to go after voters with disabilities. They're going to go after voters who speak a different language and are bringing an assistant.”

How exactly could they intimidate these voters? Beyond verbal harassment, they’d also be able to film someone voting if they deemed them to be acting in a suspicious manner. And let’s just say that when the GOP accuses Democrats of voter fraud, it’s not suburban white people about whom they’re talking.

Republicans in the State House rolled through many of the amendments and objections that Democrats and non-partisan witnesses presented on Thursday morning and offered little hint that would listen to any of them. Both Clouston and Eby say that the Senate passing the For the People Act would make many of these racist provisions illegal, which would allow them to sue to end them with confidence. 

Until then, they’re going to do their best to raise objections and make as much noise as possible over these bills, which have largely gone under the radar.

“Republicans need to know the Texans are not going to just accept this, that we're going to fight tooth and nail and that we expect them to be focused on the issues facing the state,” Clouston says. “I didn't have power for three days in February, it was freezing outside. I have colleagues and friends across the state who had even worse situations with no power and no water for days on end. People froze to death in this state because our power grid is so messed up — and they want to focus on criminalizing a poll worker.”

Important News You Need to Know

Gonna run through some headlines tonight, notebook-style!

  • Matt Gaetz’s disgusting sex trafficking and corruption scandal just keep getting more disgusting.

  • According to Axios (the outlet that covered for Gaetz by running a piece about his mulling retirement hours before the scandal broke), it’s a bad idea for Biden to not include the SALT repeal in his big infrastructure bill. And who do they get to back that hypothesis? Why, Newsmax analyst Doug Schoen, who is still somehow seen as a credible Democratic voice.

  • Whaddya know, Florida’s official COVID-19 death toll is under scrutiny because Gov. Ron DeSantis, as I’ve gone over many times here, has been shameless about blatantly covering up deaths.

  • Just cancel student debt already!

  • Mississippi, the poorest state in the country, isn’t just refusing to extend Medicaid. Now, the GOP legislature is refusing to extend postpartum coverage for new mothers past two months, which falls tragically short of the recommended one year.

  • On the other end of the spectrum, Virginia just ended the terrible 10-year work requirement for legal immigrants to qualify for Medicaid coverage. That’s double the requirement imposed by the federal government.

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