Protecting the freedom to vote in Texas

This past week we celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our nation. The 13 colonies were tired of taxation without representation. In the 245 years since, our nation struggled to ensure that everyone had the equal right to vote and access to the ballot box. In the early 1800s, new states that entered the union gave the right to vote to non-property owners. It wasn’t until the ratification of 15th Amendment in 1870 that the right to vote could not be denied on the account of race. It took the passage of the 19th Amendment to guarantee women the right to vote. Even with those constitutional protections, there were still local laws enacted aimed at disenfranchising voters. After many battles and with the signing of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, our nation once again declared that the right to vote and access to the ballot box were fundamental to this nation.

Texas has come a long way from our dark history of intentional voter suppression and intimidation. Texas’ history of disenfranchising voters — from holding whites-only primaries to barring people from voting based on whether they speak English to outright intimidation and closing voting locations in minority locations — was so notorious that for years the state had to get Department of Justice approval for any election changes under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Now that we are not subject to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, we have to be careful that we don’t fall back to old practices. We have come a long way in guaranteeing the franchise to our citizens –– for minorities, for women and for our youth. But it’s up to us to protect that cherished right for all our constituents.

The final version of Senate Bill 7, the omnibus election bill, contained barriers that would limit access to the ballot box. It would have prohibited early voting before 6 a.m. or after 9 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday, and before 1 p.m. or later than 9 p.m. on Sundays. SB 7 also contained a higher standard for people with a disability to qualify to vote by mail, including listing why they cannot vote in person.

Because of the pandemic, local officials enacted policies to make it easier and safer to vote. Those policies included early voting locations open 24 hours, drive thru voting, and more people voting by mail. As a result, Texas saw record turnout in the 2020 elections.

The chief of elections at the Texas secretary of state’s office testified that Texas had an election that was smooth and secure. Now some of the same policies that led to the record turnout in 2020 are under attack.

I believe we all want free and secure elections, but I’m concerned that in the name of security, we might sacrifice the right of legal voters to cast their ballot.

We need to be mindful that we aren’t going down a slippery slope and backtracking on the hard fought progress we’ve made.

Voting freely, safely and equally guarantees that Texans have a say in key decisions that impact our lives and our communities. Senate Bill 7 did not pass during the regular legislative session. The governor said that he would call a special session to pass  an elections bill. That special session begins today. We do not have the exact details of what will be included in the bill. It could be the same language as Senate Bill 7 or it could be different. I promise you that I will always fight to protect the freedom to vote for all eligible Texans.

History will judge what the Legislature does during this special session.