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Analysis

Texas’s Proposed Voter Suppression Law

The threat to Texas voters of all political affiliations is not voter fraud but rather voter suppression.

  • David Weinberg
August 23, 2021

The follow­ing is adap­ted from testi­mony given Monday before the Texas House Select Commit­tee on Consti­tu­tional Rights and Remed­ies for a hear­ing on Senate Bill 1.

All Texans deserve a free, fair, and access­ible elec­tions system. They registered and voted in record numbers in 2020, and they voted in an elec­tions system that was safe and secure.

The idea that there is wide­spread voter fraud or prob­lems in Texas elec­tions is danger­ous, racist, and moreover, it is devoid of evid­en­tiary support. In 2020, Texas Attor­ney General Ken Paxton’s office spent 22,000 hours look­ing for voter fraud and uncovered just 16 cases of false addresses on regis­tra­tion forms out of nearly 17 million registered voters accord­ing to news reports.

Look­ing back, in the 10 years preced­ing the enact­ment of Texas’s voter ID require­ments, only two cases of in-person voter imper­son­a­tion fraud were prosec­uted to a convic­tion. Again, to put it plainly and simply: the 2020 Texas elec­tion and past Texas elec­tions were accur­ate and secure. This senti­ment has been stated by Keith Ingram, director of the Elec­tions Divi­sion for the Texas secret­ary of state. Ingram test­i­fied in the Texas House Elec­tions Commit­tee, “In spite of all the circum­stances, Texas had an elec­tion that was smooth and secure. Texans can be justi­fi­ably proud of the hard work and creativ­ity shown by local county elec­tions offi­cials.”

The clear and present threat to Texas voters of all polit­ical affil­i­ations is not voter fraud, but rather voter suppres­sion.

An analysis of state voting laws by North­ern Illinois Univer­sity and Jack­son­ville Univer­sity concluded that it is harder to cast a ballot in Texas than in any other state across the coun­try. Texas already severely limits those who may vote by mail, makes voters pay their own post­age if voting by mail, and limits online voter regis­tra­tion to a limited category of voters. It also imposes oner­ous require­ments on any citizen who wishes to register voters and requires voters to register 30 days before the elec­tion in which they want to vote, tied for earli­est in the coun­try.

But while parti­cip­a­tion should be welcome in a demo­cracy, Texas lawmakers are consid­er­ing a bill that would erect obstacles to the vote, Senate Bill 1. If the facts tell us anything, Texas politi­cians would do best to act reas­on­ably instead: stop the alarmism and respect Texans’ access to the ballot.

Many Texas elec­ted offi­cials have been saying that Texas needs an elec­tions bill that would make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat.” But the meas­ures contained in this bill appear to be not a reac­tion to real incid­ences of cheat­ing, but rather a fairly obvi­ous reac­tion to and retali­ation against success­ful efforts by local offi­cials to make it safer for indi­vidu­als to vote during a deadly pandemic, and by others to encour­age voter parti­cip­a­tion. Senate Bill 1 makes voting and voter parti­cip­a­tion more ardu­ous in a pleth­ora of ways. 

Senate Bill 1 would, among other meas­ures, ban drive-thru and 24-hour voting, curb early voting, make it more diffi­cult for voters with disab­il­it­ies or language access needs to receive assist­ance with voting, prohibit elec­tion offi­cials from send­ing mail ballot applic­a­tions to eligible voters, and require mail ballot applic­a­tions to be hand-signed and to include ID inform­a­tion. It would also make it harder for elec­tion offi­cials and elec­tion judges to protect voters from poll watcher harass­ment, create a vague crim­inal penalty against “vote harvest­ing” that could capture ordin­ary inter­ac­tions between campaigns and voters, and make it more diffi­cult for Texas judges to accom­mod­ate voters in the event of a natural disaster or pandemic by restrict­ing their abil­ity to modify or suspend elec­tion proced­ures.

While Senate Bill 1 would impose restric­tions on all Texan voters’ access to the ballot, the bill would appear to partic­u­larly impact voters of color. Limit­a­tions on voter assist­ance for people with limited English profi­ciency will have an outsized effect on communit­ies of color. So will provi­sions that give great leeway to poll watch­ers to intim­id­ate voters. And the appar­ent retali­ation in Senate Bill 1 against elec­tion offi­cials trying to make voting easier in large, diverse popu­la­tions such as Harris County could not be more obvi­ous. This coin­cides with new census data show­ing Texas continu­ing to grow into a more racially and ethnic­ally diverse state.

Given the calam­it­ous state of Covid-19 in Texas, with hospital systems stretched to their limits, certain portions of Senate Bill 1 that may require an indi­vidual to vote indoors or discour­age an indi­vidual from enga­ging in contact­less voting appear not only unne­ces­sary but also grossly irre­spons­ible. The entirety of Senate Bill 1 is unne­ces­sary given the many false justi­fic­a­tions for the bill — enact­ing provi­sions now to discour­age voters from using drive through voting, vote by mail, or drop boxes seems beyond the pale and a dark stain on this insti­tu­tion.

Senate Bill 1 is a roadmap for making it more oner­ous for Texans to vote. It is a solu­tion in search of a prob­lem that exists only in the harm­ful rhet­oric of those who continue to spread misin­form­a­tion about the 2020 elec­tion and other elec­tions.

In Texas, it is past time for lawmakers to leave divis­ive false­hoods behind and turn their atten­tion to ensur­ing all Texas voters have fair, free, and equal access to the ballot box moving forward.