We all know that everything’s bigger in Texas, and that includes our obstacles to voting.
Since 2011, federal courts have made 10 findings of intentional discrimination against voting laws passed in Texas. Millions of Americans – and thousands of Texans – have limited access to democracy because of coordinated efforts that aim to discourage certain individuals from voting. This is voter suppression.
To find the latest fiasco, you only need to rewind to late January, when Acting Texas Secretary of State David Whitley proclaimed that 95,000 non-citizens had registered to vote and 58,000 of them had voted in at least one election. Almost immediately, it was revealed that thousands of naturalized citizens had been included in the list. In a matter of days, this supposed year-long evaluation unraveled and now faces multiple lawsuits from voting rights advocates.
Last Wednesday, a San Antonio federal court stepped in to protect the voting rights of Texans, and ordered Acting Secretary Whitely to direct county officials to halt the purge of any registered voters from the rolls. A day later, even against mounting opposition, the Senate Nominations Committee voted 4-3 on a party-line vote to advance Acting Secretary Whitley for a full Senate vote.
Our concerns can be summed up by a brief exchange during Whitley’s hearing before the Senate Nominations Committee when Senator Royce West of Dallas earnestly asked him to define “voter suppression.”
In a stunning moment, Whitley, the person vying for the permanent job as Texas’ Chief Election Officer, replied, “I think it’s irrelevant how I would define it.”
That simple, short-sighted statement revealed that Whitley, and possibly the Office of the Secretary of State, do not understand the chilling effect that their policies have on voters, particularly voters of color. He does not seem to understand that receiving a letter challenging your citizenship and eligibility to vote feels like a big, red target has just been painted on your back.
For anyone who has ever dreamt of becoming a United States citizen, the right to vote in free, fair, and open elections is held in the highest regard; to unjustly lose that right would be devastating.
This incident shows us that we have a long way to go in stopping voter suppression tactics.
While other states are taking steps to ensure that eligible voters do not jump through hoops to cast a ballot, Texas remains stubbornly behind the curve. That’s why my colleagues and I at the Mexican American Legislative Caucus have filed legislation that will enact measures like same-day and online voter registration, countywide polling locations, and ensure that college campuses have a polling location on-site. Given that Texas ranks 44th out of 51 in voter turnout, we should be making it simpler, not harder, to vote.
It remains our goal to uncover whether this attempted voter purge was simply a case of incompetence or a coordinated and malicious effort to prevent naturalized U.S. citizens from voting. Our chief election officer should know what constitutes “voter suppression.” It ensures that you know your actions will not trample the constitutional rights of Americans.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a regular series of op-eds from members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. State Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas chairs MALC. The op-eds will run from today thru the end of the 86th Legislative Session. For more information about MALC, email [email protected]