It’s pretty bad when you hope and pray for everyday Texans whenever the Texas Legislature meets.
Take Texas’ abysmal record on voter participation. A study issued before the November 2018 midterms analyzing midterm election returns from 2006, 2010 and 2014 showed Texas dead last of the 50 states in voter participation, tying only with Washington, D.C., which tellingly doesn’t have a voting member in the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate. Voting numbers improved in Texas in 2018 — thanks to Beto O’Rourke’s compelling candidacy for Senate — but even then these were only so good: All but 10 states still performed better as genuine democracies than Texas.
The Republican-led Texas Legislature’s solution this session? Senate Bill 9, which would have severely criminalized Texas voters even if they made dumb, innocent mistakes in the state electoral process, to the extent they might wind up in jail. It expanded the potential for partisan poll watchers to intrude on the privacy of active balloting. It threatened criminal penalties for election judges and poll workers who stumble in their pressure-cooker duties, to the point the Texas Association of Elections Administrators came out swinging against the bill. Chris Davis, association president, reminded lawmakers it’s tough enough to get qualified, long-suffering poll workers and election judges without the state’s threatening to throw them into the hoosegow for the least little slipup.
The bill even threatened to make voting harder for persons with disabilities by regulating how many could be transported to the polls and forcing the poor sucker who drives three or more to attest to their disabilities, which a former district judge in testimony labeled flat-out unconstitutional. Republican House Elections Committee members sat unmoved as the disabled and those who help them protested. They bowed to party dictates and voted this monstrosity of a bill to the full House, even though 233 of 256 testifying opposed it. Democracy in action? Anything but.
“There’s a need for election reform, there’s a lot that should be addressed by this committee, and I’ve talked to the chair several times about this,” former state Rep. Lon Burnam said. “But this bill is fundamentally flawed. It needs to die.”
Scheduling complications may have done just that this session. Still, that the bill got so far is a testament to GOP efforts to impede and marginalize any group of voters representing a threat to the GOP’s retaining power. God forbid the GOP broaden its policies to appeal to greater numbers of Texans. Much better to scare them off. And among those helping this bad bill along — our own state senator, Brian “Beauregard” Birdwell, who also hopes to rewrite bleeding chunks of the U.S. Constitution one day. Based on his support of this bill early on, no one should let this guy near our Constitution.
We should question the motives of all who seek to further voter oppression and intimidation. And Memorial Day weekend is a good time to do so. One can’t ask those who perished in combat why they were willing to step in harm’s way, but some fighting alongside them say they did so to ensure our liberty and our system of government. None, so far as I know, risked life and limb to allow charlatans and demagogues to pass laws to discourage, marginalize and frighten fellow Americans from performing one of their very few civic obligations. And hindering the handicapped is a new low for these self-styled “patriots.”
It’s clear what’s happening. While Texas Republicans retained power in the 2018 midterms, the margins by which they did so were considerably smaller than in 2014 because of demographic changes and growing repulsion at GOP extremism. At a time when many agree the need for electoral cybersecurity is imperative, Republicans instead encourage the old canard about waves of illegal immigrants and corrupt poll workers seeking to fix elections. Given the real threats, such self-serving motives border on dereliction if not treason.
“I don’t understand why we try to further disable the disabled with our laws and disrespect voter privacy,” Iraq war veteran Jay Stittleburg told state lawmakers. “As a veteran, I’m alarmed every time I see laws that intimidate, hinder or impede people from their constitutional right to vote. I visited many countries where this is commonplace and this is not what we want in the United States of America.”
Given that the federal courts — including the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — have repeatedly faulted the Texas Legislature for discrimination at the polls, the solution is obvious. But do we have the guts to cross party lines to protect our fellow citizens as many of our war dead ventured beyond safety into battle on our behalf? One can always hope and pray. And, for the moment, vote.