by Claudia Yoli Ferla
Last year, MOVE Texas went to great lengths, alongside our partners in the state, to explain to Texas lawmakers how harmful the effects of Senate Bill 1 would be for voters in Texas. Unfortunately for these voters, Senate Bill 1 was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott and took effect earlier this year; and we’re already seeing first-hand the havoc it is wreaking.
The harmful effects of Senate Bill 1 on the voting public are being felt in two main ways. First, by deterring engagement with the voting process by outlawing covid-safe voting options even as Texas is still experiencing a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations. And second, by making engagement with the voting process extremely difficult; as added regulations from Senate Bill 1 impose unclear and ill-defined mandates on election officials and voters themselves, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of vote by mail applications that are rejected and inducing general chaos throughout the system.
A large part of the way Senate Bill 1 was designed took overt measures to make voting less accessible—particularly to communities of color—in Texas’ larger metropolitan areas. For example, prohibitions on 24-hour early voting and drive thru voting: two options which Texans of color successfully used in 2020, both for added protection against the coronavirus and because it accommodated the often irregular working hours that many of us are bound to.
These measures were put in place to give voters safe, secure voting options during the pandemic. But, with the pandemic still raging across Texas, they have been abruptly removed, forcing many Texans to choose between exercising their constitutional freedom to vote, or exposing themselves and their families to deadly disease. Many Texans will be left with this impossible choice: my health or my vote. We do not even have a comprehensive online voter registration system, meaning that accessing democracy risk-free is simply not on the table. This causes a general anxiety voters must account for when deciding whether or not to vote, or register to vote, deterring engagement in the process.
There are also the measures contained in Senate Bill 1 which have made engaging in the voting process an absolute nightmare. Many election officials report being unaware of many of the changes included in the new law, due in large part to lackluster outreach efforts on behalf of the Texas Secretary of State. County election systems remain in the dark about what updates they need to make to their local voter files, leaving many voters who are eligible to vote by mail with rejected mail-ballot applications.
Let’s be clear: all of this chaos, confusion, and deterrence is the point of Senate Bill 1 and every other voter suppression bill passed by the Texas legislature. It is a failure of our elected leaders to provide an adequate voting system, and a deliberate one at that. But while our elected leaders have failed us—repeatedly—Texans, will not fail one another.
Efforts are already underway to break through the confusion and disorganization that Senate Bill 1 has caused and bring more people into the process. Ahead of the Texas primary election registration deadline on January 31st, we’ve sent out 50,000 voter registration mailers and are reaching out to more than 150,000 young Texans to ensure they have the information they need to be voters.
We’re working with our partners to educate and activate Texans across our state who care about the condition of their democracy—we know they’re out there, thousands of them showed up last year to oppose Senate Bill 1 when it was being considered in the state capitol. We know our state has the spirit to step up and rise to this challenge, and we’re committed to making sure they’re empowered to do so.