By ROYCE WEST
The battle against voter suppression starts anew this week and I encourage every citizen, every Texan, to get involved by testifying, calling and emailing elected officials to protest the proposed elections legislation and ask them to vote against these Jim Crow bills.
A former U.S. commander-in-chief has made it his habit to immediately label any claims, no matter how factual, not aligned with his branding of information as “a witch hunt” or “a hoax.” But a bill that will if passed – create confusion for voters and reject ballots for reasons now legal under law under the guise of ensuring voting integrity, that’s the real hoax.
The Texas Attorney General’s website says that since 2005, the office has successfully prosecuted 534 offenses related to election fraud involving 155 persons. A tally of the number of votes cast in statewide elections over the same period totaled 83,933,740. Finding widespread voter fraud in Texas can possibly, if not rightfully, be called a witch-hunt. I’d bet more than 534 people claim to have seen Bigfoot!
Longstanding claims of voting improprieties were breathed new life by a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote in the last two elections. They can be seen as the impetus for nearly 400 bills filed in state legislatures in 2021, including SB7, which was thwarted by my colleagues in the Texas House during the final hours of the 87th Regular Legislative Session. By the end of May, 14 states had passed new laws that place more restrictions on voters.
During the pandemic, some Texas jurisdictions passed rules that helped voters feel safe, such as creating mobile or temporary voting locations and expanding provisions that allow curbside voting. SB7 and its special session successor will eliminate “drive-thru voting” by banning the use of “moveable” structures or tents or parking lots or garages as voting locations. No known reports indicate fraud.
Voters who are mobility-challenged are able under current state law, to vote from their cars or the vehicle they are riding in. The proposed legislation would allow only the voter or an accompanying child to remain inside the vehicle while their ballot is being cast. Even the driver, must get out.
Over the years, civic-minded Texans have helped their neighbors, including seniors and others who do not drive, by giving them a ride to polling places. Churches and other organizations across the country have helped get voters to the polls. SB7’s heir will discourage citizenship and kindness by forcing good neighbors to complete a form that must be submitted to election officials if they carry three or more people to a voting site.
I’m glad that a provision in an early version of the elections bill that could have created chaos at voting sites by allowing poll watchers to record voters was removed. But the bill still gives poll watchers near unfettered ability to have too much of a presence at polling places, with only their pledge that they will not disrupt voting activities. The bill creates a Class B Misdemeanor for election workers who deny poll watchers free movement at a voting site.
This week, reports emerged that two more bad policy choices will not be part of the new voting bill. One provision would have allowed a judge to overturn the results of an election based on assertions that the votes were illegally cast, without actually counting the votes.
And bill supporters and the lt. governor say language that would have not opened polls on the last Sunday of early voting until 1 p.m. will not be included this time. Shouts raised the roof at the thought of limiting “Souls to the Polls” efforts historically supported by Black churches.
But another part of the bill may likely remain. It calls for the secretary of state to monitor county voter rolls to determine if the number of voters registered in a county exceeds the number of voters who are eligible to vote in that county. The problem is that from year-to-year, there is not an official instrument that tabulates how many persons are eligible to vote in a particular county. Officially, how many people moved to Dallas, Bexar, Harris or Travis or Tarrant counties last year?
When the departing secretary of state’s office said the 2020 Election was “smooth and secure” and turnout in Texas was higher than it had been since the 1992 Election, any talk of widespread voter fraud sounds suspicious, at least to me. You might call it fake news.
Sen. Royce Barry West is a member of the Texas Senate representing the Dallas-based 23rd District. He is currently in the Democratic primary runoff for the 2020 United States Senate election in Texas. (NO LONGER RELEVANT)