This week, Harris County voters experienced extremely long waiting times—disproportionately in areas with high minority turnout. There has been debate and confusion about why this happened. There should not be.
Let’s be very clear: the lines were longer in Harris County because the Republican Party deliberately worked to make it happen. This is just another instance in a long series of voter suppression tactics deployed by the Texas GOP.
Voter Suppression is a Major Texas GOP Strategy
It is no secret that voter suppression is a major, long-term campaign strategy for Texas Republicans intent on holding power by undermining the increasing voting strength of minority citizens and other Texans inclined to support fair-minded Democratic candidates. Now that Trump controls every aspect of the Republican Party, his officials readily – and publicly – admit it.
Over the years, harshly partisan and ideologically extreme GOP leaders have systematically passed laws, bent or broken rules, and forced unfair and discriminatory rulings on premeditated lawsuits all designed to make it harder for people more likely to vote with Democrats to cast ballots.
Prominent, Texas-based voting rights attorney Chad Dunn says, “They’re really designed to shape an election to the outcome they want.”
Abbott’s Discrimination and Voter Suppression Legacy
There are many examples of these voter suppression tactics being cleverly shrouded under the guise of making voting more “convenient” and “secure,” or making voters “more informed.”
In 2011, then-Attorney General Abbott helped Republicans pass voter ID laws in Texas under the auspices of election security and later admitted it was a blatant attempt to discriminate against minority voters. Democrats filed suit against the measures. They were found to be unconstitutional by a conservative court and the state was forced to change the law to allow the more than 1.2 million eligible voters with one of the few IDs Texas selected to vote.
That same year, Abbott assisted the Texas legislature in passing gerrymandered election maps that were found to be unconstitutional for discriminating against minority voters.
Last year, the GOP-led Texas legislature passed a law that closed some college campus polling locations. Democrats sued on the grounds that it was unconstitutional because it discriminated against young voters.
Perhaps the single greatest accelerator to the GOP voter suppression strategy has been the erosion of the Voting Rights Act. In 2013, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court ruled on Shelby County v. Holder:
“The ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’” racial voter discrimination that Congress addressed in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 no longer existed.”
That ruling removed a provision requiring the U.S. Department of Justice to pre-clear all proposed changes to Texas election rules and laws. Without that added layer of protection to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act, states were then free to pass discriminatory laws that would later have to be challenged in the court system.
Is it any wonder why Mitch McConnell’s mission is to get as many conservative judges appointed as possible?
The long voting lines this week in Harris County are results of the corrupted “convenience” voter suppression tactic deployed by the GOP.
This year, in an effort to make voting more convenient, Harris County officials pushed to implement countywide voting on Election Day in addition to the early-voting period.
Texas election laws require local county party chairs to agree to consolidated primaries. If they don’t agree, then individual voting machines have to be designated as Democratic or Republican instead of having both primary ballots on all machines. Any move to close or relocate a polling place must also be agreed to by both county party chairs.
Instead of working in good faith to increase convenience and access to polling locations, the Harris County Republican Party refused to agree to joint primaries.
Moreover, the Harris County GOP pushed for more voting centers in the two county commissioner precincts represented by Republicans, threatening to deny an agreement for countywide voting if it didn’t get its way.
While the new Democratic leadership in Harris County attempts to encourage more people to participate in the democratic process, Republicans used their leverage in state law to hold the process hostage and make long lines and delays certain.
Surging in Spite of Voter Suppression
Even with the Republicans plotting to make voting harder for communities of color, Democrats turned out in vastly greater numbers during the 2020 Texas primary than the other side of the aisle. That —as always— has been the fact at the heart of why the GOP works to suppress votes. Republicans know they can’t win fairly, so they will manipulate every conceivable rule in an attempt to hang onto power long past the time when their numbers warrant it or their extreme views deserve it.
Is there almost always some level of administrative issues during election cycles? Sure, but don’t confuse the normal logistical challenges of operating massive elections with deliberate GOP strategies designed to make it harder to vote.
In 2017, Texas Republicans passed a bill to end straight-ticket voting in Texas, claiming it would lead to “more informed voters.” Most observers recognized it as another attempt to discriminate against Hispanic and black voters. A lawsuit was filed this week to challenge that specious claim as unconstitutional.
With Republicans and voter suppression, it’s always the same song and different verse.