I never truly appreciated the art of a dog and pony show until I started working in Texas politics. Sure, I had orchestrated my share of “visibility events,” rallies, and press conferences across the years and states that I had worked in, but nothing really prepared me for the big and bold ways Texas Republicans continually find to say not much of anything at all.
So when Governor Greg Abbott, fresh off a dip in his approval ratings after his decision to roll back Covid protections, arrived in Houston this week to talk about “election integrity,” I knew what to expect. Abbott’s dogmatic adherence to Trump’s Big Lie about election fraud just won’t die, but that’s largely because feckless politicians like Greg Abbott don’t want it to.
Some of my friends and colleagues have framed Abbott’s appearance in Houston, where he hyped up rolling back some of the most effective and common-sense electoral reforms in the South in generations, as just his latest attempt to distract from how badly he blundered the big freeze and score some points for the 2022 Republican gubernatorial primary.
Make no mistake, when Abbott announced his plans to roll back life-saving Covid precautions, it was pure distraction. But, his continued dalliance with the Big Lie is something far more nefarious. Abbott won’t relent on baseless claims of voter fraud not because it’s what Trump voters want to hear, but because it might help him rig the game for his re-election.
There is no compelling reason to ban voting after 7 p.m., except that votes cast later in the day tend to skew toward working-class communities and voters of color. Those votes are reliably Democratic, so making it easier for folks to cast them isn’t something Republicans are interested in.
There is no good reason to require every single polling location to have the exact same number of voting machines, except it will create longer lines, making it harder for those same working voters to cast their ballot during regular voting hours and still get back to work on time.
There is no morally justifiable reason for the state to make disabled Texans prove their disability in order to receive curbside voting accommodations. We allow people to register for and receive Covid vaccinations in this state without proving they actually qualify for group 1B.
Abbott’s renewed attacks on voting rights are not grounded in fact. Republican claims about voter fraud never have been. Abbott’s choice to wage this battle in Harris County is also not an accident. Harris County officials like former County Clerk Chris Hollins, County Judge Lina Hidalgo, and a range of other officials worked hard to expand access to voting during a global pandemic.
And it worked. Which is exactly what Abbott is afraid of.
Harris County set and broke a number of records for voter turnout in 2020 and continued to trend in the direction of a deep blue county. For Republicans, nothing good will come from urban counties like Harris expanding their electorate at that rate. It will allow Democrats to add to their raw vote total, while eating away at the Republican advantage in more rural parts of the state.
It’s part of a coordinated effort across states in the south, particularly Texas and Georgia, to create as many barriers to access as possible for voters who are considered more likely to cast ballots for Democrats. Across the country, hundreds of anti-voting bills have been filed in state legislatures to curtail access to voting.
From making it harder to get a mail ballot to limiting hours and closing locations, Texas Republicans and their colleagues nationally have gone all-in on setting up roadblocks to voting. For Abbott, it’s a decision fraught with danger, because he’s messing with Texans who enjoyed the expanded access to voting they received in 2020 by a wide margin.
Abbott will be in for a rude awakening at the ballot box in 2022 as exasperated voters ask their neighbors what happened to the curbside voting they used so efficiently in 2020? Or why the convenient, centrally located voting mega centers Harris County deployed are no longer available? Or why his mother couldn’t get her mail ballot this time?
How will those voters feel when their neighbors tell them they’re waiting in an hour-long line to vote because Greg Abbott and Texas Republicans did everything they could to make it harder for them to vote this time? That the “election integrity” bills Abbott and Republicans have pushed was really designed in the hope that voters would get discouraged and just decide to go home without voting?
I’ve got a feeling more than a few voters will remember that when they hit the voting booth in 2022. And we will keep working every day to make sure of it.