Voter 'suppression session' in Texas

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"Don't mess with Texas" bumper sticker. Image: Thomas Hawk/Flickr

"Don't Mess with Texas," reads a popular bumper sticker in the Lone Star state, which Republican lawmakers are clearly ignoring.

Governor Greg Abbott convened a special legislative session, intent on passing a draconian voter suppression law. Critics have dubbed it the "suppression session." In response, almost every Democratic representative in the Texas House fled the state, denying the Republican majority a quorum. At least fifty Democrats flew to Washington, DC, where they are pressing Congress to pass H.R.1/S.1, The For the People Act, which would expand, rather than shrink, the number of people who vote in our elections.

Gov. Abbott told Austin's ABC affiliate, "As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done." Speaking from Washington, DC, Texas Representative Trey Martinez Fischer from San Antonio said on the Democracy Now! news hour, "I don't like being told that I'm going to be corralled or cabined like I'm a piece of property. Especially for minority lawmakers, that's especially sensitive."

The voter suppression bills would disproportionately impact people of color and residents of urban centers like Houston, the fourth most populous city in the nation, and one of the most diverse. The bills ban drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting centers. They ban election officials from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications and tighten photo identification requirements.

The rationale for the "election integrity" bills, say the Republicans, is to combat voter fraud -- which has been repeatedly proven to be almost non-existent.

"The attorney general, who has every opportunity to prosecute election fraud, his office said, 'Well, we've had 44 cases' -- not just in 2020, but over the years, 44 cases," African American Democratic state Representative Jasmine Crockett, also speaking from Washington, DC, told Democracy Now!

"Compare that with the fact that we have 30 million people in the state of Texas, and we had 700 die in the winter storm. So, you tell me: Do we need to talk about the integrity of our electrical grid, or do we need to talk about the integrity of our election system?" Texas's devastating electrical grid failure is not on the agenda for the special session.

The effort to further restrict voting rights in Texas follows passage of seventeen similar laws in states like Georgia. Massive voter turnout in the African American and other minority communities there won Georgia for Biden in 2020. Then, in a special election, Democrats Jonathan Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock unseated Georgia's incumbent Republican Senators, delivering the Senate majority to the Democrats. Warnock is up for re-election in 2022.

Until recently, racist barriers to voting in Texas, Georgia and elsewhere could have been struck down under the Voting Rights Act (VRA), passed in 1965 after decades of struggle and bloodshed during the civil rights movement. The increasingly ultraconservative U.S. Supreme Court, though, continues to gut the act.

First, the court, under Chief Justice John Roberts, eviscerated the act's Section 5 "preclearance" requirement with its 5-4 decision in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case. Section 5 required states with long histories of racist disenfranchisement to have any change in their voting laws "precleared" by the Department of Justice. On July 1st, the Supreme Court gutted another key piece of the VRA, Section 2, in its partisan, 6-3 decision in Brnovich v. DNC. Republican Mark Brnovich, a former private prison industry lobbyist, is currently Arizona's attorney general. He defended an Arizona law making it more difficult for citizens of color to vote in Democratic strongholds like Maricopa County, the state's most populous, diverse county.

Many of the Texas Democrats in Washington are also joining progressives who are pressuring President Biden and Congress to do away with the Senate filibuster, seen as the major obstacle preventing passage of the For the People Act. Biden did not mention the filibuster in his major voting rights address this week. South Carolina Democratic Congressmember James Clyburn has proposed a filibuster carve-out specifically for voting rights bills.

"This is a long game. This is a marathon. I'm not looking for an overnight success," Rep. Martinez Fischer added. "We need to continue to fight the fight. Our actions today are very reflective of the actions of Frederick Douglass, the suffragettes and all the folks who fought for the Voting Rights Act in 1965."

Martinez Fischer's words echoed those of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Republican leaders like Governor Abbott recognize they can't win with their policies, so they continually try to reduce the number of those who can vote against them. This time, they have provoked a group of Texans who won't be messed with: the Lone Star all-stars.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!

Image: Thomas Hawk/Flickr

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