How the Texas Legislature failed the voters of Texas

by | May 24, 2021 | Policy, Voting

As I write this post, we are 11 days, 7 hours, 54 minutes and 16 seconds away from sine die. Sine die (pronounced “sigh-knee dye”) is that miraculous moment when the Texas Legislature finally adjourns, ending its six-month Helm’s Deep-style battle against the rights of marginalized and vulnerable Texans. Now is the time to look back on this legislative session and celebrate the great steps we have taken to expand voting rights in Texas!

[silence, cricket noises, a distant dog barks]

Who are we kidding? This has been an exceptionally dark session for Texas voters.

You’ve probably heard about the monstrosity that is SB7, a voter suppression bill that has charged through the legislature. Plenty of other voter suppression bills have gotten through. And each one of these bad bills took up air, space, and time that our legislators could and should have used to help Texas voters.

Texas is one of only nine states in which you cannot register to vote online. (Oklahoma has online voter registration now. Oklahoma.) A bill to bring our voter registration into the 21st century never even got a committee hearing in this session. Twenty states have automatic voter registration, where every eligible voter gets registered unless they opt out. Many bills tried to make our lives easier with automatic voter registration. Rep. Briscoe Cain did not let any of them see daylight in committee. It’s the same story with registration during early voting or on election day. Texas already has one of the lowest registration rates in the nation. This session ensures that this embarrassment will only continue in the years to come.

The Texas legislature also completely failed to make voters safer in the wake of the most life-threatening pandemic in a century. At least eight bills tried to expand vote-by-mail to every Texan. No dice. Hundreds of disabled and elderly Texans faced difficulties using their right to vote curbside, but this legislature has so far failed to pass a fix. Even Governor Greg Abbott’s extra week of pandemic voting is nowhere to be seen in legislation, thanks in part to those in his own party who sued to stop it. If another pandemic hits during an election year, the Texas Legislature has made sure that we’ll be as unprepared next time as we were this time.

I could go on and on with my fanfiction about what Texas elections could look like if the Legislature had made different choices. But they didn’t. And thanks to new voting restrictions without new advancements, suppressor supremacy is safe… for now.

Emily Eby is a Voting Rights Staff Attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project

This article is part of a collaboration between the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) and the Texas Signal. Every two weeks we will feature a new piece from TCRP focusing on voting and election-related bills facing the Texas legislature.

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