To fight voting restriction efforts in Texas, the Senate must pass voting rights bill

© The Hill To fight voting restriction efforts in Texas, the Senate must pass voting rights bill

Just this month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1 – the restrictive anti-voter legislation that Texas House Democrats broke quorum twice over – into law. Although the battle over that bill has now moved to the courts, the GOP’s war on democracy continues, and the next big fight has just begun. Without swift passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in the U.S. Senate, voters in Texas and across the country will see their rights stripped away for years to come.

Last week, the Texas Legislature convened for a special session to undertake the once-per-decade redistricting process to redraw the state’s electoral districts based on new census data. Redistricting is always contentious, especially in Texas, with its shameful history of drawing intentionally discriminatory districts to silence Black, Hispanic and other minority voters across the state.

After a narrow Republican victory in the presidential election in Texas, the state’s majority party began systematically attacking the right to vote. We saw this in their continued promotion of the Big Lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, undermining trust in our democracy. We saw this in the bills they filed and rammed through the Legislature adding unnecessary restrictions and levying felony charges for making simple mistakes when voting. Now, we’ll see it again over the next 30 days as our GOP-led Legislature draws maps that deny the existence of Texas’ massive, minority-driven growth.

Efforts to suppress the vote come in two primary forms: vote denial and vote dilution. Over the past year, Republicans have focused efforts on vote denial, enacting laws that create deliberate barriers to voting and discouraging participation – all justified under the threadbare phrase of “election integrity.”

With redistricting now on the table, the other vote suppression tactic – vote dilution – will come into play. Unfortunately, the GOP majority will likely do what was done in 2011 – dilute the strength of minority voters.

Senate Bill 1 and redistricting are two acts of the same twisted play. Even if targeted populations figure out how to cast a ballot under the new restrictions, they will be drawn into a district that makes electing their candidates of choice nearly impossible.

The legislative fight that ultimately resulted in Senate Bill 1 involved some of the most extreme rhetoric and most regressive policy proposals since the Jim Crow Era and was a clear response to the blue shift the state saw in 2018 and 2020. But the strategy isn’t new.

Texas Democrats picked up eight seats in the state House in 2008 because minority voters got to select their candidate of choice. In 2011, Texas Republicans responded by passing one of the most restrictive Voter ID laws in history. The law was eventually struck down by federal courts as an act of intentional discrimination and Republicans were forced to amend it. Months later, Republicans passed legislative and congressional redistricting maps that were later revised by the courts after being found to intentionally discriminate against racial minorities.

Texas’ shameful history of attacking the freedom to vote far predates the 2011 debacle.

As soon as the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 made it possible, Texas was brought to court for violating it. Every decade, our state has been challenged on a VRA violation. And every decade, those challenges have been ruled legitimate.

Despite this history, Texas has also been a leader. President Lyndon Johnson, a Texas native, pushed for and secured the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and President George Bush, a Texas Republican signed the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. Leaders in Texas must follow in their footsteps.

Over the next few weeks, Texas Democratic officials on the state and federal levels will work together to propose new maps that are representative of recent census results that showed Texans of color drove 95 percent of the growth in our state.

If Texas Republicans intend to create districts reflecting that, we will work with them, but given the apparent racial gerrymandering in their initial map proposals, we will likely, once again, need to fight it out in court. We must also fight back by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act that would restore preclearance, ensuring states like Texas are not able to hold elections under discriminatory rules or districts.

At this moment in history, Texas is ground zero for the fight for the fundamental right to vote. Democratic legislators and advocates in our state are doing everything within our power to safeguard our democracy. The U.S. Senate must do the same and pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act at the earliest opportunity.

Marc Veasey represents the 33rd District of Texas and is co-founder of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus. Chris Turner is a Texas state representative and chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus.

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