TEXAS Governor Greg Abbott’s new restrictive voting law will disenfranchise minority voters, activists have warned.
The Republican lawmaker signed the new voting bill into law, which tightens regulations and makes it harder for people from a number of demographics to vote in the state, on September 8.
It made Texas the latest state to impose voter restriction laws – after Florida and Georgia – since the 2020 election. All bills were passed with the supposed aim of protecting the integrity of US elections – but this is highly disputed by activist groups.
The bill imposes bans on drive-through voting, 24-hour voting, and mail-in ballot applications, and introduces monthly citizenship checks as well as new powers for poll-watchers.
Ameer Patel, Vice President of Programs at Voto Latino, said: “There’s a lot of really bad things that have been put into this bill under the guise of strengthening the voting process.”
“But in reality the bill takes aim at people of colour, seniors, and people with disabilities and restricts the methods in which they vote – it doesn’t do anything to preserve the integrity of the vote.”
By limiting voting hours from 6am until 10pm, the bill discriminates against those who typically vote out-of-hours – often blue-collar workers and younger individuals who lack the convenience of jobs which allow them to take time off to vote.
The record 158.4 million votes cast in the 2020 election is attributed to the expansion of voting options necessitated by the pandemic.
The turnout in Texas was the highest it had been since 1992, when two Texans, George H. W. Bush and Ross Perot, were on the ballot. Reports suggested just over two-thirds of eligible Texans voted – six points higher than the previous election cycle.
Voting rights have become another battleground in American politics. In much the same way as mask-wearing and vaccines, claims of voter fraud are now a partisan issue, and it’s unlikely that the Republicans will back more rights if they cannot see it resulting in more GOP votes.
“Having said that, we do know that Donald Trump in the last election started attracting more people of colour to vote for him,” Professor David Schultz of Hamline University told Redaction Report.
“They might do a cost benefit analysis, and say ‘OK, for what few people of colour we pick up, how many more people do the Democrats get?’
“And right now I think the Republicans view it as `If we restrict the ballot, if we make it harder to vote – we win elections.'”
This logic rests on the assumption that non-whites are more likely to vote Democratic, but Schultz points out that voting trends are not fixed.
He added: “Democrats often say ‘demographics is destiny’ that as America diversifies, it’s naturally going to become more Democratic.
“I don’t think demographics are destiny, demographics are possibilities. They create possibilities for politics, for new coalitions, and trying to restrict the ballot is an effort to freeze political change – that’s not what democracy is all about.”
Congress cannot regulate state elections, that is for Governors or state legislators, but it could pass H.R.1 – the Democrats signature voting reform bill – which would essentially set national standards for federal elections, including automatic voter registration and mail-in voting, amongst a host of other things.
House Democrats passed the For the People Act for the second time in March of this year, but securing 60 votes in the Senate will be tough.
The Democrats will need the President’s influence, as the number of states introducing similar laws is only set to rise – Michigan looks to be next.
According to Rolling Stone, Biden has reportedly told Senate Majority leader Schumer: “Chuck, you tell me when you need me to start making phone calls”.
“And one of the things that American history tells us, is that individual states left to themselves generally don’t protect or expand voting rights – only when the federal, national government gets involved, do we see an expansion” says Schultz.
The law disproportionately affects women, who carry out significantly more childcare duties than men, and took more advantage of mail in voting and drop off boxes in 2020.
Those assisting the elderly and disabled to vote will also be faced with more paperwork to fill out.
Breaking these new rules will now be classed as a felony charge, and it’s likely that many will be discouraged by the extra hassle, fearing the repercussions of legal fallout.
Texas is not the first State to enact such strict voting laws, and whilst allegations of voter fraud were around long before Trump, his ‘stop the steal’ rhetoric has only served to exacerbate the profile of the charge.
The Republican party, still licking their wounds from the 2020 election, appears to be gearing up for the midterms next year by augmenting the turnout in their favour.
Voto Latino is a non-profit organisation whose aim is to educate and encourage young Hispanic and Latino voters to register to vote. It is one of a group of four organisations which filed a lawsuit to block SB1.
David Schultz is a Hamline Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies specialising in election law, and is regularly interviewed by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Economist.
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