It’s all wrapped in a thin white sheet called ‘voter integrity,’ but you can call it Jim Crow Revisited.
AUSTIN — Texas is one of the hardest states to vote in in the country, and the Texas Legislature is about to double down on difficult. Bills marked as priority by Governor Abbott have been filed in the Texas Senate (SB7) and House (HB6) and scheduled for hearings.
Rep. Briscoe Cain says his bill, HB6, is intended to protect the “purity of the ballot.” That already sounds like the dystopian world of The Handmaid’s Tale, but wait, it gets worse. The legislation increases criminal penalties and creates new offenses. It’s all wrapped in a thin white sheet called “voter integrity,” but you can call it Jim Crow Revisited.
The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) has written that together SB7 and HB6 would:
- Ban drive-through and outdoor voting.
- Restrict voters from dropping off completed absentee ballots.
- Criminalize small mistakes for people assisting voters to register.
- Discourage volunteers from driving voters, including the elderly, to polling places.
- Eliminate large voting sites meant to make voting quicker.
- Mandate overzealous voter roll purges that would disqualify many eligible voters.
- Increase burdens on voters with disabilities to access assistance at the polls.
The Texas Alliance for Retired Americans (TARA) is engaged in a statewide campaign called Free the Vote. Julie Fleming, TARA activist, and I were guests on Rag Radio, airing live Friday, March 26, from 2-3 p.m. on KOOP 91.7-FM or streamed here. Listen to the podcast here anytime. We go into depth on Texas legislative proposals: 1) doctor’s proof of disability if you apply to vote by mail due to disability; 2) a signed affidavit by a driver who takes someone to vote curbside that the person could not vote in person; 3) potential criminal charges for assisting with voter registration if the person makes a mistake on the registration form.
Throughout 2020, TARA worked on a campaign to educate people on how to apply to Vote by Mail. It was the safest way for high-risk elders to vote during the pandemic. In record numbers, about one million voters did vote by mail in Texas in 2020. It is possible that even educational outreach like TARA’s might be criminalized by SB7 and HB6.
In Texas, you face significant barriers if you want to
cast a mail ballot.
Many states have universal vote by mail and it results in much higher voter participation and very little fraud. In Texas, you face significant barriers if you want to cast a mail ballot. You must submit an application by mail each year. You need to check the box “annual” in order to have a mail ballot in every election during the year. You have to meet one of four criteria to apply. You must be 65 or older, disabled, in jail but eligible to vote, or out of the county at the time of the election and early voting.
You need to print the application, find the correct county election administrator’s address (on a list of 254 counties), have an envelope, and have a stamp. If you can’t navigate the Secretary of State’s site and don’t have a printer, then you are out of luck.
Register2Vote.org, a nonprofit group, has provided a great service with a website interface, supplying applications that are partially filled in with information such as name and address, and a return envelope addressed to the correct county election administrator. They help Texans wanting to register and those wanting to apply to vote by mail.
It appears that SB7 and HB6 will target exactly the kind of help that Register2Vote.org and other organizations have been providing to lessen the barriers to registration and applying to vote by mail. A practice in Black churches of “Souls to the Polls” that provides rides to polling places is also a likely target.
Just channel Stacey Abrams and her determined
work in Georgia.
As we said on Rag Radio, there is an antidote. Take action. Just channel Stacey Abrams and her determined work in Georgia against very similar provisions. Stay engaged. Stay hopeful in the face of fear tactics.
Take action to oppose SB7 and HB6 at this link.
Tune in to organizations that give updates and provide links to actions at the Texas Civil Rights Project
The Texas Alliance for Retired Americans (TARA) will be working on several fronts in its Free the Vote campaign. Stay tuned.
- Apply to vote by mail if you are eligible. You need to do this every year in Texas.
- Make sure your family members, friends, and neighbors are registered. This is the best way to counter voter purges.
- Support federal legislation: H.R.1 (For the People Act) and H.R.4 (John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act). Tell Congress you support federal laws to protect voting rights and expand participation.
- Work for a fair vote. Redistricting maps will be drawn to reflect Texas population increases this fall. Fight for fair districts.
[Alice Embree is an Austin writer and activist who serves on the board of directors of the New Journalism Project, is associate editor of The Rag Blog, and was a founder of The Rag, Austin’s legendary underground paper, in 1966.]