The stakes could hardly be higher as we head into Election Day this Tuesday. Our country is in the midst of multiple overlapping crises — a global pandemic, an economic recession, a long overdue reckoning on racism in America and an assault on our democracy unknown in modern times. As the President of the Texas Civil Rights Project, I’ve had a front-row view to the pain and suffering of so many Texans in this moment. Our clients — Texans sitting behind bars simply because they can’t afford bail, immigrant families torn apart at the border, voters of color facing seemingly endless barriers to casting a ballot that counts — demonstrate why and how elections matter.
So it was good for my soul to make the drive from my home in Austin out to the Texas Hill Country last Saturday to visit with Luci Baines Johnson, the daughter of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Socially distant and outdoors, Luci and I warmed up around a campfire as we talked about her father’s legacy in expanding voting rights, starting with his central role in passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
She described what it was like to attend the signing of that historic civil rights law, and how her father foresaw the political consequences of his act of political courage:
[President Lyndon Johnson] said, ‘Lucy Baines, we’re going to the Congress because there are going to be many courageous men and women who, because of their bravery, will not be returning to the halls of Congress. And there are going to be some extraordinary men and women,’ — like John Lewis we just lost this past summer — ‘who will be able to come to the Congress who could have not come otherwise.’
It was good to remember that, over time, our country has progressed toward justice and equality.
To be sure, that path to overcome injustice twists and turns, and we still have more road ahead. In Texas, in particular, state leaders have made the cynical decision to use voter suppression tactics to insulate their own political power in the last decade. Their actions have turned our core democratic values on its head: The entire point of holding free and fair elections is for the voters to choose their representatives, not the other way around. As LBJ himself argued in pushing the Voting Rights Act to put an end to the reign of Jim Crow, voter suppression is also immoral, plain and simple. “It is wrong — deadly wrong — to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.”
In fact, the uptick in state-sponsored efforts to intimidate voters and spread misinformation is exactly why Luci and I came together earlier this year to form Texas Right to Vote, a network of leaders fighting disinformation, calling out voter suppression, and ensuring that Texas voters are ready to vote.
But there’s reason for hope in Texas, no matter what happens on Election Day. Texans are making history now by turning out to vote in record numbers this election, overcoming myriad barriers to do so. In fact, as of today’s date, with one more day of early voting and Election Day itself, more than 9 million Texans have voted — breaking our record total voter turnout of 2016. And our electorate is finally starting to look like Texas, with spikes in turnout among women, younger voters and people of color.
I already voted, my two young daughters at my side. So I’ll be spending these final days before polls close on Tuesday doing everything I can to ensure that every eligible Texas voter casts a ballot that counts. You should, too.
Call your friends, colleagues and family and make sure they have a plan to vote. Spread our voter hotline number — 866-OUR-VOTE — in case questions or any issues come up. And share these videos of my conversation with Luci to remember where we’ve been and to remind us where we’re going, even now when the future is uncertain. The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice — as long as we decide to bend it that way.
Marziani is president of the Texas Civil Rights Project.