Voting is a tradition in many families. The call of that particular civic action is passed down from the elders to youth and so the voices of our democracy grow by one more. Then one more, and one more, and so on. It’s not just a matter of bringing one’s own folding chair to the table but that ideally we’d be building out more and more sections of it. It would grow and keep growing to meet every voice until we could all have our seat at that table.
Not voting can be a passed down tradition also, and not always by choice. Systemic barriers to the ballot box (among so many other things) built up over years of bad policy making and rabbit holes of disinformation geared towards fueling even more of it can have a generational impact on entire families, entire communities. It can become increasingly difficult to imagine yourself or your family, the ones you identify as your people, powerful if you’ve never felt that you held power. That’s the violence of voter suppression. It can become cyclical.
(See also: Voter Suppression Is Warping Democracy)
What we’re seeing unfold in the Texas Legislature with a damning swiftness it would seem is more harmful efforts to continue that legacy. A legacy of severe, unjustified policy that will further restrict the vote when what we should be doing is growing it. And because that sounds a little too detached from the stakes, let me be blunt: These policies will only hurt Texas voters and for seemingly no other reason than that we showed up to the polls to be heard.
Among the many legislative hits on the Texas electorate are bills that make voter registration (already antiquated compared to many other parts of the country) harder still, knock out expanded early voting hours (something so many Texans were so grateful for in the 2020 election) and could require a more aggressive purging of the voter rolls. SB 7, which was filed last week and quickly referred to State Affairs, is shaping up to be one major step backward after another and almost entirely in direct response to the rise in voting that Texas saw in 2020 and the machine of messaging developed to cope with it.
(See Editorial: Stop The Steal Of Texans’ Election Rights)
It tightens the grip further on vote by mail, it knocks at drive-thru voting, it targets voting after 7pm, it puts unnecessary burden on voters with a disability, it gives alarming range to poll watchers which could result in voter intimidation at the polls, it potentially ups the stakes for registering to vote erroneously and obviously before ever having cast a vote.
It would be very hard to look at these proposals and think of it as anything other than this: Texas is one of the hardest and least friendly states to vote in.
I imagine what it would look like if we were working to grow stronger voter participation in Texas. Not just at a grassroots level but in the ranks of our governing body. How that might translate to more responsive and representative government. How that might change the way we see ourselves; the way we see our power, our own individual sense of agency.
If Texas was working with this same swiftness to modernize our voter registration system finally and wholly, how many more Texans would be registered and ready to never miss a vote? If we strengthened curbside voting and made it more functionally useful imagine the wave of relief it’d give the many Texas voters who rely on this method of voting. If we expanded the list of what’s acceptable, how much more inclusive we might then be for Texas voters with student ID…with tribal ID. If we put our policies towards strong, innovative civic education for our students and future leaders, think of the benefit to our up and coming generations and efforts to build more equitable systems that better serve us all.
There are bills in the state legislature right now aimed towards achieving all of that and working together, it’s what a legacy of fairer access to the ballot looks like.
It’s what it looks like when Texas voters can vote without fear of an unforgiving backlash from our own elected officials. Believe it or not, there’s reason to think we can get there.
The cumulative effect of barriers on top of barriers between us and our vote for generations can make it hard to perceive ourselves as a powerful force in our democracy but we are. We can continue the push for voter rights advancements and call out voter suppression when we see it, loudly and often. We can work to make the path to our vote unobstructed by those looking to hold onto power through denying us our own. We can realize a democracy that best serves us all and one where yes, there’s room at the table.
After all it was the Honorable John Lewis who once told us, “Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society.”
Now more than ever, let us hold to that commitment and determination.