Looking at the history of voter suppression in Texas is like watching reboots of the same tired tale. The story never changes, but people’s reactions have. As the 87th Texas Legislature nears sine die, Texans are waiting for someone to put an end to the running gag that is our voting ‘rights’.

Art by MOVE Texas Artists Fellow Jenna Luecke

Yet, here we are again watching racist bills get forced through the lege attempting to stifle our rising electorate. This year, we saw countless Texans, advocates, and Texas companies like American Airlines, Dell, Microsoft and more condemn these bullsh*t bills these past few months. And what we really know about tx lege at this point in our state’s track record is that we everyday people may not be able to truly control the outcome of a bill, but we can speak the truth about it and uncover the boldfaced lies legislators tell to make decisions that hurt Black, Brown, and young Texans. 

Even so, the lege is 140 days every two years of all of us collectively trying to protect and speak up for ourselves for countless good and bad bills, but also never actually truly knowing what is happening with the bills. “Wait, how did it get there? Wasn’t it just over here?.” Trust us, we know it’s too much. But we are just a voting rights organization, standing in front of voters asking you to read our blog and tell you WTF just happened in the effin’ Texas Legislature. Thank you kindly. 

WTF Just Happened?

This legislative session, legislators introduced 49 anti-voter laws – the most out of any state in the country. This new legislation is threatening to impose even greater anti-voter restrictions in what is already the most restrictive state in the country. Among the heavyweight bills in this session have been House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7. These bills directly targeted several pro-voter measures implemented across Texas to vote during the global pandemic – measures such as drive-thru voting, 24-hour voting and multiple drop off boxes for mail-in ballots. The bills would also increase criminal penalties for small clerical errors, assisting non-English speakers and disabled voters, and would further the scope of poll watchers to report “suspicious” voters. 

HB 6 was voted out of the House elections committee, but it’s in a weird kind of limbo. No one knows what the final version of this bill will look like as it’s being written in a back room. So, we wait. 🧍🏻‍♀️

Further along, we have SB 7 which has been voted out of the Senate and out of the House and is now back in the Senate where we are waiting for the final amendments before approval into law. A lot happened these past few months from initial hearings of the bills that did not allow virtual testimony to in-person testimony lasting well into the early hours of the next day. Two weeks ago in the House vote, the floor debate went to 3 a.m. Many advocates were able to get the worst parts gutted.

Art by MOVE Texas Artists Fellow Leila Charur

With such a restrictive voting process in Texas already, the passing of this bill makes our fragile elections even more so. And as we know, these anti-voter bills and its siblings across the country are a part of nationally backed efforts from dark money groups like the Heritage Foundation. The founder of Heritage Foundation, Paul Weyrich once said “I don’t want everybody to vote[…]Our leverage in the election goes up as the voting populace goes down.” 

He is also a part of the infamous American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC helped create the Texas 2011 voter ID law. These organizations are funneled money by politicians to keep the vote reserved for everyone but us young and BIPOC eligible voters.

The History of Voter Suppression in Texas

You may not be spending an arm and a leg to live in Texas compared to other states, but you may be forfeiting your voting rights in return. Hey, that’s just the Texas way. Texas was ranked worst in ‘cost-of-voting’ study this past year, up from number 5 in 2016. Doing it big since 1861: the land, the pride, the skies, and the voter suppression. 🤠

It’s hard to not joke about the voting laws here because we are still waiting for this loooong prank to be over. (You can come out now, haha.) And what else do we have left if not the funnies? 

To understand this current cost-of-voting ranking we need to talk about how none of these restrictions are new. They are just repackaged, rebranded and recasted. Texas and voter suppression grew up together; they’re tight. Childhood besties and for lifers, to Texans dismay. Like, grow up, ma’ams this isn’t 1870. Please see our timeline of Texas voter suppression that could also easily be turned into a cycle flow chart. Also, check out the League of Women Voters timeline of voting in Texas for more. 

Art by MOVE Texas Artists Fellow Graciela Blandon

Timeline 

1861: Texas secedes from Mexico 

1870-1880s: White Man’s Union/Primary Associations during Reconstruction era to maintain White control in county elections in areas that had large Black or Hispanic populations by using voter and candidate intimidation and only allowing BIPOC populations to vote in Fall elections (not primaries).

1902: Texas politicians implement poll tax because of voter fraud charging Black and Mexican-American laborers nearly a whole day’s pay to cast a ballot.

1922: Texas law outright banned Black voters from Texas primaries. (following the lead of White Man’s Primary Associations.)

1927: Supreme Court declared the 1922 law unconstitutional. Although lawmakers allowed political parties to decide who could participate in primaries, so it happened again.

1944: Smith v. Allwright case, the United States Supreme Court found the White Primary to be unconstitutional.

1964: Operation Eagle Eye – National partisan poll watch campaign for “ballot security”. Following Johnson’s questionable presidential win. 10,000 poll watchers in Texas. 

1964: Voter intimidation – flyers authored by the nonexistent “Harris County Negro Protective Association” warned Black voters they could be arrested for voting if they had even been questioned by the police.

1964: Travis and Harris county claim to find hundreds of phantom voters. Later proven to be just clerical errors on paperwork.

1964 (wild year): 24th amendment banned the poll tax. 

1965: Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawing the discriminatory voting practices including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting.

1966: Texas implemented annual re-registration policy. 

1971: Re-registration policy ruled unconstitutional. Texas enacts a voter purge law that requires the entire electorate to re-register. The Justice Department stopped it from being implemented. Phew! 

2008: King Street Patriots in Harris county poll intimidation group formed in response to Obama’s presidential win. They scoured voter rolls in predominantly Black parts of Houston and came up with a list of what they called fraudulent registration forms. Group praised by Harris Tax Assessor at the time.

2010: Voting rights Grim Reaper himself, Greg Abbott, then attorney general, had armed agents raid the headquarters of Houston Votes and seized everything funded by a federal grant disbursed by Gov. Rick Perry. During this period they targeted dozens of groups that assist marginalized voters.

2011: The Texas Legislature enacts Senate Bill 14 and what Gov. Rick Perry deemed ‘emergency legislation’ (eye roll) requiring a voter to present 1 of 7 acceptable forms of identification to vote in person. 

2012: Shelby v. Holder overturns provisions in Voting Rights Act

2019: The Texas Legislature prohibits temporary voting sites during early voting, which were usually used on college campuses and in rural areas.

2019: Almost 100,000 voters were attempted to be purged from the voter rolls after Gov. Abbott’s appointed Sec. of State sent a list of names across the state that were mostly recently naturalized citizens eligible to vote.

2019: 750 polling locations close in Texas since Shelby v. Holder ruling.

2020: Federal Judge says Texas is once again violating The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 also known as “Motor Voter” and orders DPS to allow online voter registration when updating driver’s license by Sept. 2020.

2020: In October, Abbott ordered Texas counties to limit themselves to one drop-off location for mail-in ballots during the global COVID-19 pandemic.Texas Supreme Court sides with him.

2021: Current Texas Legislative session introduces 49 anti-voter laws, the most in the country. This is a part of a nationally backed effort from dark money organizations drafting legislation across the country such as the Heritage Foundation. 

And now we’re here. 🙂

WTF now?

Again, we reiterate that SB 7 and HB 6 are not shocking pieces of legislation, just tired ones. And as Rep. Rafael Anchia pointed out to Chairmen Briscoe Cain on the House floor debate of SB 7, the term “purity of the ballot box” has already been used. During the Reconstruction era this term stopped Black Texans from voting. Get new material! 
At this point in our state’s history it makes sense to be defeated by the reoccurring suppression. Legislators have kept up the jig for decades. Although hoping through this can feel out of touch in a reality where legislators and dark money coordinate and overrule the people’s will, we at WTFTxLege and the greater MOVE Texas community are grateful to be in this fight with you. The protests and rallies we have been in together have gotten national attention. The thing is, they won’t feel shame passing these bills under our microscope. But, the country is watching closely as Texas legislators have been warned, educated, and enlightened on the racist, ableist and ageist tones of the bills. CAUGHT. IN. 4K. LEGE.