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.
Okay, so you should now possess the knowledge about the county and state primary elections (if you read the previous blogs), but now let’s get federal. We know all the buzz is around the Governor’s race as it is among the more high-profile races that usually draws people out of their homes and to the polls. While Texas voters will elect many important state and local level public officials, ranging from Justices of the Peace, County Judges, to the Attorney General, this is also a critical election for federal-level offices, namely U.S. House Representatives. While MOVE Texas is all about voting local, we know much of what happens at the federal level influences the way our local offices act.
Serving 2-year terms, elections for U.S. House Reps happen at a relatively high frequency compared to the Governor who serves 4-year terms, or even U.S. Senators who serve 6-year terms (although neither of Texas’ two senators is due for reelection this year, we’ll have to wait for 2024 for that 😭).
This year’s election for U.S. House Reps is particularly important because it is the first one since the results of the 2020 census. Its findings mean Texas is one of 6 other states due to gain representation in Congress, specifically in the form of not one but two additional U.S. House seats in Congress for a total of 38 (only behind California’s nation-leading 52 seats). This is because Texas’ population grew from 25.1 million in 2010 to 29.1 million in 2020 – a 4 million person increase, which is greater than the entire population of 22 other states.
This dramatic growth, overwhelmingly driven by people of color, comes not only with perhaps more congested highway traffic in some of our major cities (speaking from experience as an increasingly frustrated Houstonian wishing for expanded multi-modal transportation, deep sigh), but also with significant political implications. Depending on where you live in the greater Austin and Houston areas, you may likely have the opportunity to vote for and elect the first-ever candidates for Texas’ newly created U.S. 37th and 38th Districts, respectively (ok trendsetting and trailblazing). These new seats are simply what you deserve, and more than anything it’s what you NEED.
Why should U.S. Congress People matter to me?
Aside from those new congressional districts, most Texans will have a chance to vote for a new U.S. House rep, and we should all be putting serious attention to these positions. Out of all the offices that will be on the ballot, U.S. congress people are arguably the most powerful – especially when considered as a whole.
When it comes to our day-to-day lives, state and especially local governments often have a more direct impact than the federal government. Part of the reason is that the federal government often acts very slowly on issues, especially in states of emergency: if a hurricane strikes our coastal communities, county governments often deploy emergency response resources quickly and before other levels of government does; if our electrical grid fails, it is primarily up to the state government to ensure its ongoing resiliency and keep the lights on; to enhance public safety in our towns and cities, city council members and mayors can together implement needed reforms in short order. We know, none of this is exactly a selling point as to why you should participate in the federal elections, but we are getting there!
When the U.S. Congress does act, it has the power to make profound changes to our way of life and can establish conditions for wider prosperity and security in ways that the other levels of government cannot. Actions taken at a federal level inform the decisions our state and county level officials take, and there are major issues that only the federal legislators have the capacity and full resources to address.
Well, what can they do that my local government can’t?
Let’s talk about climate change for instance. It is estimated that $50 trillion worth of resources is needed to stop global warming, including investments in renewable energy infrastructure, electric vehicles, battery technology, green housing and jobs, and more. Local and state climate action is necessary, but with a combined annual budget of $130 billion, even if the City of Houston and the State of Texas dedicated their entire public funds to combating climate change, it would only amount to a 0.002% contribution of what is needed. Indeed, an unprecedented level of economic mobilization and international cooperation will be required to resolve this issue. But the U.S. federal government has the financial capacity to spend to the tune of trillions of dollars (as it has recently done with the $2 trillion American Rescue Plan Act alone), so its role should be to support cities and states with addressing climate change at the necessary scale. This is exactly what the Green New Deal calls for, and it is our Congressional representatives that must drive this legislation forward.
Congress is also most equipped to protect and expand voting rights in our nation. The recently passed Texas Senate Bill 1 has codified various forms of voter suppression in the state, including bans on drive-through voting, 24-hour polling places, the distribution of mail-in ballots, and more. State authorities have also drawn new electoral maps from the 2020 census, which has instituted egregious and discriminatory forms of partisan gerrymandering which are currently being disputed in court. With these attacks on democratic practices, we need federal policymakers to champion legislation that will enact non-partisan gerrymandering, automatic and online voter registration, expanded mail-in ballot voting, revived federal preclearance, and campaign finance reforms – all policies which can advance and protect voting rights in our state.
The U.S. federal government can also play a key role in addressing racial injustices and making our communities safer. The United States has the highest jail and prison population globally, with nearly 2 million people currently incarcerated. Texas, in particular, has an incarceration rate even higher than the U.S. average that disproportionately impacts people of color. Black Americans are incarcerated across the country at nearly five times the rate of white Americans, and Latine people as much as four times in some states. Moreover, 45,000 people died of gun violence in the U.S in 2020, a 70 percent increase since 2014. Federal lawmakers can have a crucial role in dealing with these crises by passing measures like legalizing cannabis, decriminalizing all drugs, outlawing private prisons, implementing more robust gun controls, legalizing sex work, ending immigration detention, and so much more. In effect, our congress people have the power to help end gun violence and mass incarceration in the U.S.
Vote for local, state, AND congressional candidates this year!
Every election is a chance to send a message over where Texans stand on issues and the type of political representation they are looking for. People must not ignore the local and state candidates down the ballot. Yet, depending on how people vote for Texas congressional candidates specifically, it can set the tone of both Texas and U.S. politics over the next election cycle. Indeed, it is no trivial matter. There will be many positions up for election this year, and we must not take any race for granted – so be sure to get out there and vote!
You may be familiar with our current Governor, Greg Abbott. But just what are the responsibilities of the office? Elected for four year terms, the Governor of Texas is the highest executive position in the state. Responsibilities include:
signing and vetoing bills passed by the state legislature, such as SB 1
convening special sessions of the Legislature (of which we recently saw several!! 🤢)
submitting state budgets, which are then approved by the Legislature (2021’s budget was $250 billion)
appointing positions ranging from boards & commissions, to Secretary of State & Texas Supreme Court justices
Declaring special elections to fill vacant roles
Commander-in-chief of the state’s military forces ($100 million+ budget)
State Army National Guard (18,000 personnel)
State Air National Guard (3,000 personnel)
Texas State Guard (1,600 personnel)
That’s a lot of responsibilities.
Whereas in recent years, the Governor has focused on restricting voting & reproductive rights, here are a few ways those same responsibilities could be used to advance progressive causes and help vulnerable Texans:
Declare climate change a state of emergency and allocate resources to combat it
Mass commute jail sentences of groups incarcerated for drug crimes and other low level offenses, especially victims of racial discrimination and survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence
Appoint progressive justices and a Secretary of State who champions voting rights
Convene Special for relevant issues, such as climate change, rather than voter suppression
Veto harmful legislation that harms the environment, restricts voting rights, or disenfranchises communities
Also elected for four year terms, the Lieutenant Governor is a unique position within the state, with powers in both the legislative AND executive branches, which is uncommon amongst other states. These legislative powers make the Texas Lieutenant Governor arguably one of the most powerful state officials nationwide. Our current Lieutenant Governor is Dan Patrick. Let’s take a look at some of the specific responsibilities of this position:
Establishment and appointment of all legislature committees, chairpersons, and members
Assigning Senate legislation to the committee of his choice
Sets Senate parliamentary and procedural rules
Decision-making vote in the case of a tie in the Texas Senate
One of five members of the state redistricting board
Next in line to the position of Governor if the incumbent resigns, dies, or is otherwise unable to execute the office
In recent years, we’ve seen legislative committees and assignments designed to restrict voting rights, meaningful climate action, as well as immigration and criminal justice reform. A progressive use of the Lieutenant Governor role would help ensure more meaningful progressive policy makes its way through the lege, and to the Governor’s desk. Additionally, a progressive presence on the state redistricting board could help decrease the amount of discriminatory gerrymandering present in Texas’ district maps.
Next up is the Attorney General of Texas. The attorney general acts as the chief legal officer of Texas. Our current Attorney General is Ken Paxton. The roles of this office include:
The Land Commissioner serves as the head of the Texas General Land Office. George P. Bush has held the office since 2015. The Land Commissioner’s responsibilities include:
Managing about 13 million acres of Texas’ publicly owned lands (This sometimes involves selling public lands. Proceeds are added to the Texas Permanent School fund, which funds Texas public schools.)
Keeping records of land grands
Issuing maps and surveys of public lands
Managing the Alamo
Following Winter Storm Uri in 2021, the office attacked wind and solar energy in spite of fossil and nuclear plants accounting for the majority of power failures. In more progressive hands, the Land Commissioner could encourage a transition to clean energy, both by correctly laying blame for power outages and climate change as well as air quality on fossil fuels, while reducing the amount of public land being sold to oil and gas companies in favor of wind and solar energy generation, therefore freeing public education from being tied to fossil fuels for funding.
The Texas Commissioner of Agriculture serves as the head of the Texas Department of Agriculture. Sid Miller has held the office since 2015. The Agriculture Commissioner’s responsibilities include:
Regulation of fuel pumps,use of pesticide, and organic food certification
Overseeing statewide agricultural production
Providing grants and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers
Overseeing the Department of Agriculture’s School Lunch and Breakfast program
Offering infrastructure grants to rural communities
Though the name may imply the position entails overseeing the state’s railroads, this three-member executive agency actually regulates oil and gas businesses in Texas. Jurisdiction of Texas railroad was transferred to the Texas Department of Transportation in 2005. The current Railroad Commissioners are Christi Craddick, Wayne Christian, and James Wright. Responsibilities of the Railroad Commission include:
Overseeing the state’s oil and natural gas industry
Overseeing pipelines, coal mining operations, and natural gas utilities
Due to the confusing name of the department, only 1 in 10 Texas knows the main function of the Railroad Commission. This misconception, combined with a general lack of transparency has allowed the Commission to allow oil and gas companies to operate with little regulation, while actively fighting against attempts to switch to renewable energy generation, such as wind and solar power. Under current leadership, the Commission has been critical of federal energy regulation, placing emphasis on free market principles over environmental protection.
Recently, the Commission has faced criticism over failing to properly weatherize its facilities, leading to the statewide power outages that occurred during Winter Storm Uri. Commissioners were quick to defend oil and gas after these outages. Under more progressive leadership, the Railroad Commission could dedicate its efforts to proper weatherization of plants and stricter regulation of oil and natural gas industries.
These positions wield a massive amount of power, and in the hands of a candidate with a strong progressive voice, are each capable of improving the lives of many Texans. While achieving statewide change may seem like a difficult task, the presence of strong voting rights, energy justice, racial justice, and housing justice champions in these statewide offices could massively improve our chances of achieving that change, not to mention preventing future catastrophes, like we saw during Winter Storm Uri.
This upcoming primary election will be a key one, and while the sheer number of candidates may be imposing to look at, we hope that this rundown of the responsibilities of each office, and possibilities for how they could be used for good will help inform decisions, and provide some much-needed accessibility into the overall voting process. Happy voting!
Most of the U.S population and Texas voters are probably familiar with the Texas Governor’s race happening this year, but there are many more offices on the ballot besides the Governor affect our lives on a daily basis. These races might even impact us more than the Governor’s role. There are different levels of government on the ballot: County, State and Federal – which are each important and in their own right. But today, we want to talk about the county.
County level elections impact us most because it is closest to home. These are the ones that reach us as soon as we step outside our door. So, it’s important we be informed on what each office’s power is in order to vote for progressive change. Below you will find each office on the county level! Stay informed, be an educated voter, go out and vote! Early voting starts February 14 (instead of going on a date with your significant other, maybe go and vote with them).
Even though at MOVE we’re always preaching about voting locally and doing this democracy thing at the most grassroots level, we admit, what our county level officials actually do in Texas isn’t always clear. What is clear, once you do know, is that we can’t ignore these down ballot races.
We hope after reading this, you can feel a little better about these offices while at the ballot box and a little less “WTF”.
Here is what you need to know about what’s on the ballot for the county level offices and how each office impacts you daily!
County Commissioners and County Judges
As a metaphor, County Commissioners are kind of like the city council members of a county and a County Judge is kind of like a mayor! Elected for 4 year-terms, county commissioners are responsible for overseeing the county’s management and administration, representing county interests at the state and federal level, and making decisions over county budget and finances. This includes passing legislation and policy impacting local issues like:
Elections & voting
How much poll workers are paid
Where polling locations are
Voting hours & which sites you’re eligible to use when
Overall budgets for each election
Overall budgets for elections departments
Allocating federal disaster funds and climate infrastructure subsidies
Creating climate plans and budgeting for climate adaptation programs like home weatherization county residents can apply for
Fund job retraining programs for workers to ensure a just transition as we work to phase out fossil fuels and move towards renewable energy
Justice of the Peace Court
Justice of the Peace Court, you’d think most of their activity is peaceful right? Well, not always and it’s not that simple. You may want to pay extra attention to these candidates because JP courts oversee things like:
Determining whether or not tenants will be evicted in landlord-tenant disputes
This court has jurisdiction over debt claims, evictions, landlord/tenant disputes, etc.
A justice of the peace may issue search or arrest warrants
Has jurisdiction over small claims matters
Hears traffic and other Class C misdemeanor cases punishable by fine only
Hears civil cases with up to $20,000 in controversy
Hears landlord and tenant disputes
The Civil Court at Law
Civil Courts are kind of like those courts you see on TV. Technically these courts manage, direct, supervise, coordinate and plan the operations of courts. Elected for 4 year-terms, the Civil Court at Law is responsible for assisting the judiciary in making certain decisions, except those judicial decisions by law to be made by judges. When it comes to the types of decisions they oversee, this where you may be familiar with their reality TV counterpieces. But we don’t make light of it because those decisions impact people’s paychecks, family structures, and life stability. Here are some of the things they oversee:
Civil Court judges can order you to pay money or a fine, or make decisions about your family or your home
Cases that go to civil courts can cover a housing case such as for eviction or foreclosure, a family case such as divorce or custody
Debt or bankruptcy, or when someone sues for money because of damage to property or personal harm
County Clerks are really important to MOVE Texas because in a lot of counties in the state, this office runs elections. This means if election information is hard to find or hard to navigate on your county website, you might have to take it up with your county clerk depending on where you live. Or, if you are interested in seeing a polling place added to a local college, your county clerk is a key player in deciding those location assignments (if your county does not have a separate Elections Administrator). Okay, now that we’ve got our favorite thing, elections, out of the way, here are some of the other powers that a County Clerk possesses:
Issues marriage licenses
Serves as chief elections officer in most counties
Acts as a recorder and custodian of important public records
Criminal Court at Law
If you commit a misdemeanor or felony crime, the judicial philosophy of your Criminal Court judge really matters. These judges play a sometimes quieter role in mass incarceration at the local level, depending on how punitive they believe the judicial system should be. Reform judges may support alternatives to jail via diversion programs and believe that the courts are implicated in the need for system wide change. They have the power to set bonds, refer those on their docket to “special courts,” and sentence punishment. Just some misdemeanor crimes, ranging from class A to class C, covered by this court include:
Theft of property
Possession of marijuana of up to 2oz
Another key role in the criminal legal system locally in Texas are county constables. They have following powers and functions as a licensed “peace” officer’ including:
Issues traffic citations
Serves temporary restraining orders
Serves as bailiff for Justice of the Peace Court
Property owners using constables to help evict tenants who have not paid rent
Pay attention to these offices as well
In probate proceedings, the court has the power to:
Issue warrants and processes necessary to compel the attendance of witnesses
The basic role of the probate court judge is to assure that the deceased person’s creditors are paid
Oversees the distribution of property of a person who has died
The District Clerk serves as the custodian of all records for the District Courts. They index and secure all court records, collect filing fees, and handle funds held in litigation and money awarded to minors. In keeping with the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, they ensure things like a trial by your peers can actually happen. They have the following responsibilities:
Coordinates the jury panel selection process.
May process passport applications.
The county treasurer oversees county finance and is charged with safekeeping and investing county funds. This includes the maintenance and reconciliation of all checking accounts under the care of the county treasurer and the disbursement of funds
Receives and deposits all county revenues
Disburses funds upon the order of the Commissioners Court
May prepare the payroll
Each election is important and no matter the race, they play a role in our lives at every single level. We hope you learned a little about how County level elections are closest to home and the everyday bullsh*t.
Don’t forget to keep Pushing P by voting in the Primary Election next week!
As the first month of 2022 ends, and February begins, we can already feel the excitement, friendly competition, and civic engagement in the air indicating that one of our favorite seasons is upon us – the Texas Primaries. You’ve registered to vote at your current address and checked your voter registration status twice, now it’s time to vote.
While we know you can’t wait to make your voice heard at the county, state, and federal levels, we understand that you might feel anxious as variants of COVID-19 continue to rapidly spread along with a slew of voter suppression laws. I mean WTF right? But don’t fret because we’re here to break it all down and help you navigate the voting process.
Voting during Panny? a Panorama? A PATRICIA?
The 2020 Texas Democratic Primaries were the first elections to take place following the outbreak of COVID-19 and when it came to pandemic preparedness in counties across the state, it was a dumpster fire. Many election offices took this as a lesson learned and have adjusted the way they administer elections. This has come in the form of following CDC recommendations, to making voting more accessible through expanded hours and curbside voting. However, there has been little to no guidance from the state, and we cannot be certain that your polling location will be taking the necessary precautions. Instead, we can give you all the tips and suggestions to follow while casting your ballot. Take it or leave it, but really… actually take it.
Vote Early ~ The best way to avoid crowds of people and long lines is to vote early beginning on February 14th and ending February 25th. We all know it’s too late for Valentine’s Day reservations, so how about a cute date at the polls?
Vote by Mail ~ If you meet any of the qualifications below, complete and sign an application to vote by mail. The County Clerk must receive your application via mail by February 18th. When it comes to mailing your ballot, there are some new rules you need to be aware of. Surprise? Yeah I didn’t think so, but more on that later. For now, look over this wonderful resource from some of Texas’s favorite baddies, The League of Women Voters.
are 65 years or older;
are sick or disabled;
will be out of the county on election day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance; or
expect to give birth within three weeks before or after Election Day; or
are confined in jail, but otherwise eligible.
Use curbside voting ~ If you are physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring your health or if you have symptoms of Covid-19, you can vote curbside, meaning that a poll worker must bring a ballot or voting machine out to you.
Be Prepared ~ Don’t show up to the polls empty handed. Some things you should bring include a mask, sanitizer, finger glover or pencil, and one of the accepted forms of ID.
Voting in the Voter Suppression State
Now let’s skip to the new election laws, which are really just voter suppression tactics dressed in business casual attire. Texas is already widely known as the hardest state to vote in, yet more barriers have been added that will have a detrimental effect on voter turnout, especially for voters of color, students, and disabled people. If you don’t believe me, take a quick break from reading to play Voting in Texas: The Game created by Texas Public Radio. Goodluck!
During the 2021 legislative regular session and the following two special sessions, we called on lawmakers to pass policies that would protect Texans by responding to the COVID-19 crisis and fixing our failing energy grid. Instead, Governor Abbott and his anti-voter minions spent months fighting to pass Senate Bill 1 to prevent the rising and diverse Texas electorate from exercising their fundamental right to vote. This voter suppression bill has now become law and the harmful impacts have already started to unfold.
Here are the big red flags in SB 1 and how you can avoid them:
🚩 Added and unnecessary rules to the mail-in ballot request process
If voting by mail, you are now required to provide your Voter ID number (TXDL, Personal ID, EIC Number or, if not available, the last four digits of SSN) on your VBM application and VBM ballot carrier envelope.
You must use the same Voter ID number on your voter registration application, VBM application, and VBM carrier envelope otherwise your ballot may be rejected.
Pro tip: Track your VBM application and VBM ballot throughout the election process. Be sure to provide contact information on your VBM application so the county may contact you if you need to fix an error with your application or ballot.
🚩 Prohibited popular voting options
Counties are now prohibited from offering drive-thru voting as well as 24 hour polling locations and are only allowed to conduct elections between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Some smaller counties may now fall under the requirement of having at least 12 hours of early voting on weekdays in the second week. While at MOVE Texas we are all for expanded access, this does not take away from the harm that will occur from restricting voting hours and options especially in urban areas that have a large percentage of Black and Brown voters.
Pro tip: Look at your county’s election office website to find your nearest polling location and early voting hours, so that you can make a plan to vote. Try going to the polls before or after work, in between classes, or on the weekend. As long as you are in line by the time polls close, you will be allowed to cast your ballot! (FYI curbside voting is a great option if you meet the requirements listed above)
🚩 Empoweredpoll watchers
Although partisan poll watchers are required to complete a training and take an oath, they have fewer restrictions on movement within a polling location and are entitled to sit or stand near enough to hear and see activity as well as to watch poll closing activities.
Pro tip: Know your rights! You don’t have to speak to them or listen to anything they say. We recommend keeping a distance and not engaging with them to avoid any intimidation about casting your vote.
🚩 Increased risks for assisting voters
Any person assisting voters with a VBM application, VBM ballot, or in-person ballot, must fill out a document showing their name, address and relationship to the person they helped cast a ballot and sign an oath indicating that they did not receive compensation and pledge to obey certain limits to their assistance.
Any person who drives 7 or more voters who qualify for curbside voting, must sign a form which is shared with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General’s office.
Pro tip: Keep the new requirements in mind, but try not to let these unnecessary changes stop you from participating in civic engagement with your community.
🚩 Requirement for potentially discriminatory monthly voter purges without a curative requirement
The Texas secretary of state’s office is required to check monthly to make sure no one is on the state’s voter rolls who said they were not a citizen when obtaining or renewing their driver’s license or ID card. This is an extremely dangerous as it comes following the 2019 discriminatory purge that illegally removed thousands of naturalized citizens from the voter rolls.
Pro tip: The number one way you can protect yourself from being prevented from voting after a purge is to make it a habit to check your voter registration status before the deadline to register! Repeat for all upcoming elections.
🚩Lack of guidance from Governor Abbott, the lawmakers who authored this bill, and the Secretary of State
Despite SB 1 taking effect in September of 2021, there has been very little guidance from the state on how counties should be conducting elections and how voters should navigate the voting process under these new laws. A single advisory was released from the Secretary of State’s office only a few weeks before the election, not even touching the surface of what needs to be done in order to effectively communicate the changes to the public and prevent thousands from being disenfranchised.
Pro tip: If after reading this, you still have questions or you run into any problems while registering to vote, submitting a VBM application, or casting your ballot you can visit the Election Protection website for more resources or call into their hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.
This all may be a lot to take in and is definitely not good news, but remember that voting is our sacred right! Channel all your fears and anger into action by having a say in election outcomes. Also, encourage all your friends and family to do the same. Now that you’re prepared to vote, stay tuned for a deep dive into the local, state, and federal offices you can expect to see on your ballot and WTF they do.
After some big moves from pro-voter lawmakers (all the way to Washington D.C.), this first special session of the Texas Legislature has been at a standstill due to the break of quorum. This means that enough lawmakers left to prevent any votes from taking place. This play was made to stop the passage of the anti-voter bill Governor Greg Abbott is determined to make law along with other egregious bills on his priority list covering abortion, critical race theory, bail funds, and transgender kids in sports. Because of the quorum break, nothing can happen until two thirds of the members are back in the chamber.
Gov. Abbott has made several threats to these pro-voter lawmakers, and the Speaker of the House has issued warrants for their arrests as soon as they step foot back in the state.
The kicker is that in the midst of the Governor’s little temper tantrum, real people are getting hurt. And no, we are not even talking about the legislators whose payment is guaranteed in the Texas constitution. Who this really hurts is their employees and the folks who make the capitol run, amounting to over 2,000 public servants working in the Texas capitol – from staffers, to cafeteria workers and custodians.
The Governor’s Veto impacts the salaries of the people who do the nitty gritty research and business across several state agencies and the civil service workers who power the capitol. In the quest for his voter suppression scheme, the Governor is holding the healthcare and paychecks away from hardworking state employees. It is clear, Governor Abbott only views working Texans as dispensable pawns in his radical political game.
In defense of our public servants, Texas Democrats took up a lawsuit with the state’s Supreme Court, arguing that the veto is unconstitutional and “grants the executive branch unconstitutional coercive authority over the legislative branch.”
Current Republican Speaker of the House Dade Phelan went on to say, “My concern is how it impacts staff[…]and the agencies it impacts[…]I’m just concerned how it impacts them because they weren’t the ones who decided that we were gonna break quorum, it wasn’t their decision, right?”
So, like….we ALL know this is some bullshit.
The Texas Supreme Court ruling could come any day now. We will see if they uphold Gov. Abbott’s veto or deem it unconstitutional. If this isn’t sorted by the end of the month, all employees in the legislative branch will lose their paychecks and their benefits. The state desperately needs to figure out its shit before the next two-year budget cycle starts on Sept. 1.
Today’s Lesson: The Texas House of Representatives.
We can bare bones this then go into more detail of how the House acts in the legislative session (call it txlege for funsies). For starters, let’s talk about the history and purpose of the House. The house is the lower house half paired with the Senate upper half which makes our lege whole. The point of having two chambers of lege is to make it more difficult for the whole branch to coordinate efforts for any particular legislative agenda. But also lol because we live in a trifecta state where our Governor, House, and Senate are all ruled by one party, but bipartisan faith or something like that! Our House itself is made up of 67 Democrats, 82 Republicans, and one vacancy which is set to be filled after a runoff in February.
We all have one representative. There are 150 of them in our state, so that’s a lot of names to take, and hold accountable for the culture we want to see in Texas. House members are elected every two years. Let’s reiterate that this is a redistricting session meaning new boundaries are redrawn which determine the districts the representatives, ya know, represent. We have the right to testify for fair and transparent maps for our communities during the redistricting hearings.
Quiz time: Do you know who your House representative is?
Jk no quizzes here, find out who your representative is by following this nifty link from the Texas Tribune.
Role in legislative session:
Members of the House can introduce bills to their chamber then the Speaker of the House will refer legislation to the committee dealing with the direct subject matter. The committees form research, collect opinions on the bill, and edit the bill before approving or denying it to go to the Senate. Many bills die in the committees.Then it goes to the Senate. They can make amendments and send it back or not. The House can agree to the amendments or not, send it back, rinse and repeat, until an agreement is reached. If passed, it will generally go into effect in 90 days.
Speaker of the House:
On the first day of a legislative session, the Speaker of the House is elected, but campaigning for this position starts way before. The newly elected speaker of the house is Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, who secured the position with 143-2 and four non-votes. Many house representatives – Republican and Democrat – have expressed good faith that Phelan will lead with a bipartisan lens. Fingers crossed, toes crossed, and whatever else you can cross in hopes that this is true. But, what exactly does Phelan control as Speaker of the House? What does Dade do?
Appoints members to committees (honoring seniority,)
determines which bills get discussed in committees,
keeps order during debate on the House floor,
serves on the Legislative Council and the Legislative Audit Committee, and serves as vice-chair on the Legislative Budget Board. He is also a member of the Legislative Redistricting Board.
Dade does be doing a lot. Phelan holds a lot of power on what legislation is prioritized and by who. Read more on what Phelan’s priorities for this session are here.
Committees and leadership were assigned Feb. 4, and they are a doozy. Read about the assignments and see the full list here.
Meetings of a house committee are generally required to be open to the public and can hear testimony from the public on the subject at hand. When holding a public hearing, the house must post notice of it at least five days before the hearing during a regular session. So, keep an eye out for important hearings. And testify pleeeease. Please. Please.
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