We all know that everything is bigger in Texas, and that Texans approach all they do with a certain flair. Texas even has its very own Ben & Jerry’s flavor, Bourbon Pecan Pie! That’s a pretty big deal! Unfortunately, this penchant for going big also extends to voter-suppression efforts. Yes, Texas boasts one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country.
A Legacy of Discrimination
Back in 2011, then-governor Rick Perry signed a very big, very bad voter ID bill into law. Just as you’d expect, this meant that Texans would need to bring one of these with them to the polls: a driver's license, an election identification certificate, a Department of Public Safety personal ID card, a military ID, a citizenship certificate, a passport, or a concealed carry permit.
Yes, you read that correctly: a concealed carry permit. And no, student IDs are not on the list. Clearly, Texas has its priorities in order: gun owners, but not students, are welcome to vote.
And this was by no means Texas’ first run-in with discriminatory voting laws. When it was prohibited in 1927 from holding all-white primaries, for example, Texas responded immediately, as you might expect, with a new law to rectify the situation. The revamped legislation declared that party leaders would decide who got to vote. And they chose… to make the primary all-white. This legacy is why Texas was among the nine states required by the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to submit all changes to state voting or election laws to the federal government for review.
A Modern-day Poll Tax
Eric Holder, the Attorney General at the time, called the 2011 law a “poll tax” because it essentially forced citizens who do not have IDs to purchase them for the sole purpose of voting. And while most white voters in Texas already have a form of valid identification, large numbers of minorities – including 25% of African-Americans – do not. Voter ID requirements routinely disenfranchise the elderly, students, racial and ethnic minorities, and low-income citizens all over the country.
The Justice Department challenged the new law and a federal court ruled that it imposed “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.”
And that was just two days after a three-judge panel had declared that Texas’ recent redistricting plan intentionally discriminated against Hispanic voters and threw it out. Can you say ‘gerrymandering’?
Open Season on Voters
Then, in 2013, the Supreme Court eviscerated the VRA. As we’ve seen in Alabama, Arizona, and North Carolina, no VRA means that all bets are off as it relates to voting laws. Edward Abbott, Texas’s current governor, but then the state’s attorney general, could not have been more gleeful. He declared that the redistricting law would be implemented immediately.
But of course, the saga didn’t end there. A federal judge, Nelva Gonzales Ramos, ruled in 2014 that the law “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.” With Election Day closing in, the Supreme Court ultimately decided to allow Texas to move forward with their restrictive voting access polices despite Judge Ramos’ harsh condemnation. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg penned a scathing six-page dissent. Justice Ginsburg wrote:
[The law’s requirements] may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5 percent of all registered voters) from voting in person for lack of compliant identification…A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic…[R]acial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact.
The legal battle continues. A third federal court found the law invalid in 2015, but the case remains unresolved and the law remains on the books partially due to congress’ failure to reauthorize the VRA.
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Protect the freedom for all to vote!
Don’t Even Try to Vote
Texas, not content to have the strictest voter ID law in the nation, also makes the simple act of trying to register voters a punishable offense.
Let’s say you did get registered to vote in 2014 but then encountered an issue at your polling station. If you lived in Texas’ five largest counties (where, no doubt coincidentally, minorities make up the majority of the population), your provisional ballot would be four times more likely than the national average to be thrown out and not counted.
Time and again, we see the disastrous consequences of the Supreme Court’s awful VRA decision. Texas, free of VRA oversight, has taken a uniquely Lone Star “go big or go home” (and stay home, especially on Election Day) approach to voter suppression. Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe echoed the thoughts of many when he said that the Texas law “discriminates against minority voters and was designed to do just that.”
How do you counter such pervasive and large-scale injustice? With a nationwide movement to restore fairness, equality, and inclusion to American elections. We must restore the VRA and return the power in this country to the people. Today.