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Analysis

Voter Suppression in the Lone Star State, Past and Potential Future

The Texas legislature is considering a slew of dangerous new bills based on lies about nonexistent voter fraud.

March 15, 2021

All Texans deserve a free, fair, and access­ible elec­tions system. And even though Texas politi­cians have been hard at work for years to build barri­ers to the ballot, voters have shown they won’t be stopped: Texans registered and voted in record numbers in 2020.

But while parti­cip­a­tion should be welcome in a demo­cracy, Repub­lican politi­cians in Texas are hard at work erect­ing obstacles to the vote, intro­du­cing a slew of bills intro­duced in the Texas legis­lature, includ­ing an omni­bus voter suppres­sion bill called S.B. 7. Legis­lat­ors are rely­ing on the danger­ous, debunked myth of voter fraud to push for these restrict­ive bills. 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 of the proposed policies would inter­fere with the vote and are steps in the wrong direc­tion. They range from restric­tions on voter regis­tra­tion to tight­en­ing eligib­il­ity on absentee voting — a partic­u­larly note­worthy turn of events given that Texas is already more restrict­ive with those two things than most of the states in the coun­try. And they are not really mask­ing their inten­tions. For example, last fall, Harris County, home to Hous­ton, offered the state’s first-ever 24-hour voting sites. But S.B. 1115 would keep juris­dic­tions from offer­ing expan­ded hours for voting. S.B. 1113, on the other hand, punishes elec­tion offi­cials if they do not purge voter rolls aggress­ively enough. Again, a step in the wrong direc­tion given Texas’s past history with sloppy purges that disen­fran­chise eligible voters. For its part, H.B. 6 would limit the abil­ity of elec­tion work­ers to protect voters against illegal disrup­tion and harass­ment by “watch­ers.”

But those bills are only a smat­ter­ing. The wide-ranging S.B. 7 would ban counties from proact­ively send­ing out vote-by-mail applic­a­tions and further prohibit them from merely encour­aging voters to apply to vote by mail. The bill would also require voters with disab­il­it­ies to obtain and provide docu­ment­a­tion in order to qual­ify to vote by mail. It allows poll watch­ers to video or record voters, which is basic­ally an invit­a­tion for harass­ment.

While the politi­cians are busy limit­ing access, they are also scar­ing voters into fear­ing for the secur­ity of our elec­tions. Prom­in­ent Texas Repub­lic­ans gratu­it­ously ampli­fied lies of voter fraud in the after­math of the 2020 elec­tion. Yet they do not doubt the legit­im­acy of the elec­tion in which they were declared the winner. And in a recent Texas House of Repres­ent­at­ives Elec­tions Commit­tee hear­ing, we heard many of the boogey­men raised in the past: direct and indir­ect alleg­a­tions of fraud.

The voter fraud myth is danger­ous, racist, and moreover, it is devoid of evid­en­tiary support. In Harris County, a bipar­tisan, multia­gency elec­tion secur­ity task force found no cases of voter fraud in the 2020 elec­tion. To put it plainly and simply: the 2020 elec­tion outcome was accur­ate.

The clear and present threat to our demo­cracy — in Texas and nation­wide — is not voter fraud, but rather voter suppres­sion. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attor­ney General Ken Paxton worked over­time to curtail access to vote by mail, secure ballot drop boxes, and drive-through voting, among other voter-friendly meas­ures.

Indeed, an analysis of Texas’s voting laws in 2020 concluded that it is harder to cast a ballot in Texas than in any other state across the coun­try. The state 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 offers no avenue for voters to correct signa­ture defects after Elec­tion Day, 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.

While we can’t change the impact of these restrict­ive policies on previ­ous elec­tions, we can elim­in­ate the barri­ers they pose to voters in future contests — and that means stop­ping these voter suppres­sion bills, espe­cially SB 7. Congress can act to protect Texans from their politi­cians by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advance­ment Act, which would restore the full protec­tions of the Voting Rights Act and prevent discrim­in­a­tion in voting, and the For the People Act, which sets forth a minimum federal floor of access in federal elec­tions — irre­spect­ive of what state you are in.

In Texas, it is past time for lawmakers to leave the divis­ive lie of voter fraud in the past, where it belongs, and turn their atten­tion to ensur­ing all Texas voters have fair, free, and equal access to the ballot box moving forward.