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.
Oh, you thought you were done screaming “WTF TX Lege?!” into the void? Well, think again. The regularly scheduled biennial session may have concluded, but Gov. Greg Abbott has called a special session scheduled to start July 8.
Yeah, yeah, we are not thrilled about it as we know it will be dedicated to passing anti-voter legislation that didn’t pass in the regular session. We know this special session was called because Gov. Abbott and his cronies will do anything to make voting harder for Black, Brown, disabled and young voters. But, as always, the fight continues and we are here to prepare you for everything you need to know about this rapid fire legislative session and what to expect.
WTF is so Special?
A special session is a session with a designated agenda. It is intended to pass specific legislation that didn’t get through the legislature in the regular session that the Governor deems necessary. The legislature can’t really take up any other legislation other than what the session has been specified for. It acts similar to a regular session, but on a much faster timeline of 30 days. With a special session comes special rules such as: the Governor can call as many of these as he wants, on whatever he wants, with no time restraints and no warning between regular sessions. If the legislation doesn’t pass this special session, Gov. Abbott could keep calling them until he gets what he wants. They can be back-to-back, and even the same day as one ends because there ain’t no rest for the wicked. Sessions could even continue popping up until the next regular session two years from now. Not that this is likely, but we just want to put emphasis on the power the Governor holds to ensure his priority legislation passes. Considering how the election legislation played out in the 11th-hour of the regular session, we know this could be a means for controversial back-and-forth on party lines.
Gov. Abbott intends to call two special sessions, the one set for July 8 to pass the anti-voter legislation, and bail system legislation that also died when the Democrats broke quorum; and then another session predicted for the Fall when census data is official to redraw our district lines (also, very important!!)
What TF Happened? Why TF Are We Having this Special Session?
The biggest reason this session is being held is because of the last ditch effort from House Democrats to not let Senate Bill 7 pass. Quick recap: During the last day of the regular session, SB 7 needed the full-house vote to officially turn the bill into legislation. It was obvious party-line votes were going to result in this legislation, so House Democrats broke quorum – left the chamber – so no vote could be held and the bill would die with the session.
Fun fact: Breaking quorum to kill a bill has only happened three times in Texas history. Put us in the books, baby!
After breaking quorum, pro-voter lawmakers took to Washington to address the U.S. congress in hopes of passing the For The People act to enact national standards so these attacks will cease.
This Special Session
The official agenda for the July 8 special session was released Wednesday morning. Gov. Abbott makes it clear that he will use this special session to threaten the basic rights of all Texans and undermine our freedom to vote.
We can’t be exactly sure how everything will play out, but we know the situation can be expected to be hairy as legislators on both sides are strategizing to get their desired result.
This gross abuse of power disguised as teaching legislators a lesson hardly affects 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 state employees – from staffers, to cafeteria workers and custodians.
It now goes beyond passing legislation into the ethics of potentially risking pay to their staffers if anyone threatens to stop this legislation. Just normal, Texas dystopian bullshit though.
Precautions could be taken, but Speaker of the House, Dade Phelan says he will not lock doors or bring police to keep Democrats from breaking quorum again. But, he did say, “If it takes a hundred special sessions, the Texas Legislature will pass an election integrity bill that instills further confidence in the accuracy of our elections.” It’s like a time loop horror movie!
Moreover, it is unclear how the election legislation will look this time around. It could be a whole new proposal or look the same as it did when it failed just under a new bill number. For reference, Senate Bill 7 threatened to limit early voting hours, local voting options, mail ballots, ban drive-through voting and increase the scope of poll watchers. And, that was AFTER we vouched for the worst parts to be gutted!
You Made This Possible
With the power the Governor holds in special sessions and the measures being taken to push this legislation, not much of this feels like a win. But, the fact that we were able to kill the last bill in a regular session where the majority wanted it passed, was no easy feat. Sure, it was House Democrats that broke quorum, but it was grassroots organizations like MOVE Texas, our partners, allies and supporters who enabled this reality. It was everyday voters, business leaders, artists and advocates making their voices heard for the first time that created the space to kill this big, bad bill. It was our late night testimonies, staying at the Capitol for 24-hours to make sure we were heard, the huge rallies we attended, and making this a moral issue of right and wrong that empowered the quorum break. We did that.
Even before the quorum break, there was serious work that went into doing damage control to reduce the scope and harm of this election bill.
People power made all this possible and now Gov. Abbott is scared and taking all precautions to block us. While there’s many shitty things happening/could happen to ensure Gov. Abbott passes his racist, voter suppression bill, it’s kinda cute that we got him shaking in his boots.
Our role in this special session is to continue to make noise and keep telling the legislators that this bill is racist, ableist, ageist, and their actions to pass it are unethical. Silence and darkness is truly where democracy dies, and we aren’t letting up. It’s in our nature; we showed up for each other through this pandemic, through Winter Storm Uri, and we will continue to be there for each other when our leaders abandon us. No one can ever say Texans do not show up. We out here, tx lege, where are you?
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’.
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.
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.
1836: Texas secedes from Mexico
1861: Texas secedes from the United States
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
During TX lege sessions, many bills come and go, try and die, but the one thing you can always count on biennially is the passing of the state budget. They gotta, it’s in the Texas Constitution! Just because it has to pass doesn’t mean it is without woes and upsets just as many bills in the capitol corridors. And if you’re like me, you’re probably just like, “Why this so hard? Aren’t we like the 10th largest economy in the world?”
There’s meticulous deliberation, consideration, fine tooth-combing, and slashing for this hefty state and its budget accordingly. Alas, with the economy comes a large set of rules and regulations to keep it alive, and that onus and its pitfalls usually come down on working Texans.
Budgets can be a sore subject, especially as many of us were like “unhand my stimmy, Joe.” And the Texas budget is a monster that unfortunately everyday Texans rarely get to be a part of. Here at WTFTxLege, we want everyone to see where the money goes, who follows it, and what things we can advocate for within it.
Today’s mantra comes from fellow Texan and Grammy winner Megan Thee Stallion:
“I’m on that cash shit. I’m in my bag, bitch.”
Process of the budget
Here’s a couple definitions to describe stupid economics words from ballotpedia.
Revenues come mainly from tax collections, licensing fees, federal aid, and returns on investments.
Expenditures generally include spending on government salaries, infrastructure, education, public pensions, public assistance, corrections, Medicaid, and transportation.
State budgets are forward-thinking. They depend on predicted revenues and planned expenditures.
So, just imagine all of TX Lege trying to handle a budget in a world where an unpredicted and unplanned pandemic is happening. That’s not to skirt accountability, but to just point out the considerations this budget is taking. Texas’ budget mostly comes from sales tax revenue aka businesses being open and operating. Revenues were obviously going to be down as the pandemic pushed people inside.
And when revenue does not meet expectations, Texas has to make cuts, raise taxes, borrow money, or take money from the Rainy Day Fund – none of which Texas legislators really like to do.
The lifespan of the budget includes many steps. The background stuff happens for a majority of the timeline, but we are approaching the thick of it where floor action begins. Here’s a great example of the state budget process provided by the Texas Association of Counties.
When it comes to the budget and whose analysis we are looking for, it’s the state comptroller. Texas’ Comptroller is Glenn Hegar and for months he rang alarms, provided thoughts on where revenue would stand, and suggestions for when the lege would start drafting the budget. Hegar is our very own Paul Revere heeding warnings to be ready for and the lege is able to act accordingly. Since the pandemic started, we have seen a handful of heeds all changing as the circumstances and days do. Here’s a timeline of what the budget has been staring down:
November 2020 – Hegar presented virtually to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who co-chair the budget board and said although revenue was still significantly down, it wasn’t as bad as he initially projected in the summer, once again due to takeout, delivery, and online shopping.
March 2021 – With the economy improving and Hegar’s new optimistic estimate, the budget was looking up. At the federal level, the new 1.9 trillion COVID relief bill was signed which includes about $17 billion for Texas making the budget this session look even better.
There are three committees that deal with the budget. Overall, there is a good chunk of the lege focusing on the big bucks.
There’s always lots of talk about the economic stabilization fund – or rainy day fund. This is essentially our state’s savings and what many legislators see as an emergency only – one time use – fund. But this fund currently sits at $10 billion worth of unused money. And to many advocates, issue areas are emergencies. Climate justice is an emergency. Education is an emergency. Here’s a few bills and areas advocates and progressive legislators are looking at to use the rainy day fund.
The winter storm, snowpocalypse 2021 that hit Texas and caused widespread power outages resulting in some Texans receiving sky high electricity bills that should not be their responsibility to pay. The POWER Act, HB 3460, written by Rep. Ana Hernandez is a bill calling on the state to provide direct financial assistance to residents of this state who were affected by the winter disaster.
Gov. Abbott told state agencies to reduce budgets by 5 percent and shifts like that usually mean we will see cuts to big programs like public education, higher education, and healthcare. Even though he promised education would not be slashed in his State of the State address, this is usually the area it happens to, sadly. The senate’s proposed budget does protect teacher’s pay raises, but cuts costs to technology and materials which are incongruent to distant learning.
Many advocates consistently push for the rainy day fund to be used on education to make up for past cuts and more investment in our future. The pandemic also exacerbated gaps in education as distant learning took hold. Higher education officials are asking for an investment in colleges and universities because of this.
Progress in the budget is underway, but with a lot of work to go. Gov. Abbott has released his proposed budget as has the Senate and House, both of which look similar and are $7 billion over what Comptroller Hegar said the chambers had to spend.
We are looking at budget cuts unless we dip into the rainy day fund or find another source of money. The COVID relief bill may have helped this, but we have yet to know by how much and what will continue to go down as the budget progresses. We should see floor action begin within the next few weeks. Until then, stay in your bag, friends.
The Texas Senate is the yin to the House’s yang. Referred to as the upper half, while the House is the lower half, together these chambers make the tx lege. The point of having two chambers is to moderate out the legislative process and make it more difficult for the whole legislative branch to coordinate efforts for any agenda.
But, once again, we reiterate: LOL. We live in a trifecta state where our governorship, senate and house are controlled by one party. Although, the Texas Senate is controlled by Republicans only 18-13 (Dems got so close, yet so far). The Texas Senate differs from the House pretty obviously through the amount of members in each chamber. The Senate has 31 seats for 31 districts in our big ass state compared to the House’s resounding 150 representatives. Texas Senators are repping way more area in comparison for 4-year terms and no term limits. 16 seats out of the chamber’s 31 seats were up for election in 2020.
Remember, the people who represent our regions and make legislation on our behalf have names and numbers 👀.
Need to know who you need to bully? Find your senator here.
Role in Legislative Session:
Similar to the Texas House, the Senate can introduce legislation in their chamber. A senator/sponsor of the bill will propose legislation, and the Lieutenant Governor will then assign it to a committee accordingly. The committees form research, collect opinions on the bill, and edit the bill before approving or denying it to go to the other side – the House. Many bills die in the committees once the committees conclude that the bill is similar to another, or, it’s just like, shitty.
If the bill does make it out of its committee and the House it goes to the second boss: The Floor. Bills have three major touchpoints on its way to becoming legislation. First reading is in the respective chamber, the second reading is on the floor with the full Senate, and the third reading is on the floor of both chambers.
Floor action includes amendments and debates and the Texas Senate floor action is notorious for it. The Senate permits members to speak for as long as they wish (or otherwise can physically sustain). You may have heard of a filibuster, or “talking a bill to death”. Yeah, that’s where this happens. Former State Sen. Wendy Davis is famous for her 2013, 13-hour, anti-abortion legislation filibuster.
Foot on the throats of Senators with those pink running shoes, as she should.
The Lieutenant Governor is weirdly referred to as the “President of the Texas Senate.” This position has a very unique type of power being both a part of the legislative branch and the executive branch. The Lt. Gov. is the basically most powerful elected in the state, and if the Governor kicks the bucket, they assume his position.
Out of the 50 states, Texas is one of few states that puts so much power in lieutenant governor title. Texas’ Lt. Gov. is Dan Patrick (R) and has been since 2015. If his name seems familiar it could be from an array of things from the Dan Patrick show, or maybe the piece of legislation he filed last week in protest of the Dallas Mavericks not playing the National Anthem at their games. We could go on, but we can be petty on our own time. Let’s talk about Mr. Dirty Dan and what he does in this position.
Establishes all special and standing committees,
Appoints all chairpersons and members to said committees,
Assigns all Senate legislation to the committee of his choice,
Decides all questions of parliamentary procedure in the Senate,
Takes over if the Governor dies, resigns, is removed from office, or is absent from the state
In conclusion – Dan do too much. This only scratches the surface, but the extent of these powers is worth diving into. While many committees may have intersecting interests, it’s ultimately Patrick’s decision and preference as to what committee it ends up in.
Because the Senate only has 31 members, they serve on four or five committees at a time in comparison to the House’s usual two or three. Once again, committee membership is determined entirely by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Unlike the House’s committee jurisdiction, the Senate’s committees do not specify jurisdiction, meaning there is no rule about what the committee’s assigned territory is and what bills go there, but the bills are most likely still going to the unofficial committee jurisdiction, or, ya know, we hope.
Senate committees and subcommittees must post notice of their meetings 24 hours in advance. That’s not a lot of heads up, but it’s a heads up nonetheless? Make sure to check which meetings are open to the public and able to hear testimony because the Senate is kind of a mess and it needs you to tell it what to do. You’re really gonna let DAN handle all this?! Nah-uh. Look alive.