After Georgia passed a slew of new voting rights restrictions, which President Joe Biden referred to as “new Jim Crow laws,” all eyes are on Texas as the Legislature begins hearings on a similar set of protocols. Political pressure may be the only recourse to preserve expanded ballot access as the rationales of the Texas Supreme Court in 2020 are unlikely to be in play when the next round of lawsuits inevitably happens.
The new voting restrictions under consideration are a direct result of false information pushed by the Donald Trump campaign following his loss last year. He and his proxies, including Governor Greg Abbott’s handpicked election integrity operative State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), repeatedly claimed that states that swung blue in 2020 were the sites of rampant voter fraud and corruption. All of these claims, audits, recounts, and investigations have turned up no significant foul play.
That hasn’t stopped states, particularly swing states like Georgia and Texas which are still in Republican hands, from launching massive restrictions on voter rights in an attempt to put their thumbs on the scale for the upcoming midterms and next presidential run. In Texas, the new restrictions include:
*Limiting the ability of local officials to promote early voting or even to send out applications to early vote.
*Banning the unsolicited distribution of applications for early or mail-in voting from outside groups, as well as prohibit the use of funds for the same.
*Limiting the number of voting machines in a single polling location to the number used in the smallest location in the state, greatly affecting urban counties while not affecting rural communities.
*Prohibiting overnight voting or 24-hour voting.
*Doing away with drive-thru voting.
*Making gathering absentee ballots (also known as “vote harvesting”) a felony.
*Lifting restrictions on election observers, which opponents worry will increase intimidation.
*Adding restrictions on people helping disabled or elderly voters, such as giving them rides to the polls.
All combined, the aim is clearly to depress turnout from key Democratic demographics like the disabled or city dweller through the use of extra hurdles and long lines. Is some of this unconstitutional? Possibly, but legal opponents will have less hope of making the case.
In 2020, there were several lawsuits brought by Republican entities, especially the GOP of Texas and its chair Allen West, that tried to thwart expanded voting efforts implemented during the pandemic. Drive-thru voting and Abbott’s expansion of early voting times were two of the cases that ended up before the Supreme Court of Texas, with the former putting over 100,000 votes in danger of being tossed out.
The Texas Supreme Court, all Republicans itself, rejected the GOP challenge with no reason given. However, the most likely reasoning is that by the time the case had made it so far, the election was underway. Courts in general are very leery of making rulings that would disenfranchise so many people in the middle of voting.
That is not likely to be a concern as the current voting rights restriction bill is being worked on so early before the next election. Indeed, the Texas Supreme Court has had no problem with restricting voter access in recent history. When opening up mail-in voting to everyone in the middle of the pandemic came before the court, it rejected the idea.
What saved the votes in Harris County from being thrown out by the highest civil court in the state was not likely a desire to protect such voters, but the onerous legal burden of interfering in an election already in process. Should the Texas Supreme Court take up the inevitable lawsuits that will come if the new restrictions are passed, there may still be time for them to be implemented before the 2022 midterms get underway. In which case, we will see if their previous defense of voters was truly an act of democratic principles or just a reticence to fight as the election played out. As such, it is imperative to voting rights activists to tackle the problem now as opposed to after the fact as Georgia is currently doing.