By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
Texas voting rights are at stake and for Texas Democratic lawmakers such as Rep. Jasmine Crockett, enough is enough. Crockett, of the Texas House of Representatives, District 100, located in the heart of Dallas, has fought for equal rights and helped underserved communities for most of her life, knew it was time to take action again.
Crockett, along with her fellow Texas House Democrats, are doing what they can to block Republicans from passing Senate Bill 7, which is known as a restrictive new voting law, by fleeing to the nation’s capital during the special Texas legislative session that is currently going on.
Voting in Texas
Senate Bill 5, a previous voting law that has required voters to present photo identification at the polls to vote, has made voting difficult for some residents. SB 7, if passed, would make voting in Texas even more difficult by making it harder to cast mail-in ballots, outlaw drive-thru voting locations, narrow the access to voting, give poll watchers more authority, and make easier pathways for courts to overturn election results in the state. Gov. Greg Abbott along with several other governors in other states decided to pursue harsher voting rules due the recent 2016 presidential election that featured former President Donald Trump vs. current President Joe Biden. The 2016 elections resulted in the U.S. Capitol Insurrection and claims by Trump that the election was rigged with voter fraud and therefore invalid.
One of the many initiatives the House representative had worked on when she took office in January was to make voting more accessible. Crockett, a licensed attorney in Texas and Arkansas, said SB 7, if passed, would hurt minority communities.
“I think it’s important that people understand the context of what voting looks like in Texas,” she said. “If you’ve never really been outside of the bubble of Texas, then you don’t quite understand how much more difficult it is to vote in Texas than in other states.”
Texas is one of many states that are considered to have the most restrictive voting laws.
“What we’ve seen is that based on the growth in the state of Texas, it would make any demographer believe number one, that the majority of our growth has been attributed to people of color. While we don’t have our official census numbers, demographers are stating that it looks like about 80% of the growth in the state of Texas in the last decade was due to Black, Brown and Asian people. We do know that when we look at Black folks and how they tend to vote, they tend to vote more democratically than not. As well as Hispanics where there may be about 50/50. But they do lean still a little bit more Democratically. And then Asians, I don’t know that anybody really talks about where they are. But I think they’re probably more so similar to the Hispanic population as well. We do know that the majority of the base of the Republican Party is older, and White and male. And that’s not who’s moving to Texas. And so what we see is a governor that is being challenged by his party.”
Abbott currently has two opponents vying for his seat, which is up for reelection in 2022. He will be seeking his third term as governor. The two Republican opponents that he faces are Allen West and Don Huffines.
“They’re both challenging the Governor in his primary,” Crockett said. “We don’t have anyone on the Democratic side. But what we do know is that this state really is primed for flipping and I hate to use the term flip because I think we were Democratic. I do think they were suppressed. And so, when I say that, what people need to understand is if you have lived here, you don’t know that it’s not normal not to be able to register online to vote. Thirty six states plus D.C. have online voter registration. They won’t even give us a hearing on an online voter registration bill. Now, you juxtapose that with the conversation that they continue to have about the fact that this is all about voter fraud. It’s all about voter fraud, which that’s just a lie. The biggest fraud is that it’s about voter fraud. It’s about a power grab. And so, if it’s about voter fraud, what does registration have to do with fraudulent votes? It has nothing to do with it. The person still has to show up, right? And they still have to cast their vote which has nothing to do with it. But it does have everything to do with accessibility to the polls. And so, what they’re trying to do is make it more difficult.”
The House representative said she believes it is more difficult to access the ballot box than it is to carry a firearm in the state.
“Now, just imagine that because the last time that I checked, casting a vote doesn’t kill anybody,” she said. “And they say that that’s the right thing to do under the Constitution. But voting is guaranteed under the Constitution too, but for whatever reason, we’re not making it accessible. What we want to do is we want to deter elected officials from sending out a ballot by mail application to people that are qualified to vote by mail. So in our state, if you’re 65 years of age or older, you’re qualified, you don’t have to have a disability, you don’t have to have any reason other than I am 55 years of age or older. They don’t want us to send applications to those people that are qualified. And if we do, we can go to prison.”
Problems at the polls
Other areas of concern regarding the bill have Crockett and other Democrats worried as well.
“… Partisan poll watchers that show up to the polls, and we believe that there will be a lot of those same people that showed up in D.C., in an attempt to be a part of the insurrection. We have plenty of people from Texas that decided to go up there, we believe those same people will show up to the polls, and they are being empowered,” Crockett said. “So once again, no education is required. We’re talking about changing all of these laws, right around voting. They’re not required to be educated. But that election judge is required to have an education on what our laws are and is also charged with the responsibility of keeping things in order at polling locations and making sure that the law is followed.
“Now they have to deal with somebody who doesn’t have to know the law and is given a path to break the law. As the bill is written, if there’s some felonious thing that you do in the polling location the law says they get one free pass. That’s not enough. They have to commit a second one. So actually, if they commit something, you have to then go tell them, ‘Oh, you can’t do that. It’s a violation. Then if they do something else, then they can get in trouble.”
The House representative compared the situation to what took place with Crystal Mason, an African American woman from Fort Worth who was convicted of attempting to cast her vote during the last presidential election while she was still on federal supervised release.
“She was never on what we would consider parole or federal probation,” Crockett said. “She had completed her term in federal prison and she was on the supervisory lease that comes after that. They don’t call that parole if it doesn’t work the same way. She was given five years in prison because she attempted to vote. She simply tried to vote. She wasn’t on the voting roll. So she cast a provisional ballot and they determined that she was not eligible to vote. And so that vote was not counted. But she was given five years in prison.
“Or the gentleman that we saw down in Houston, who was about to come off the wall in like a month or two who voted in Houston or in Harris County after waiting in line for six hours. And they put a man on a $100,000 bond. I don’t really care how the Republicans tried to frame it. It is insidious, it is racist. And it’s intentional.”
“There’s no accidents here,” she insisted. “If they really cared about making the ballot more accessible, which is what they say – I think, the language of the bill at the very beginning, it said something like this is to make voting more accessible – make sure it’s secure. And I’m like, No, it’s not. You guys would not answer why online voter registration is a problem. Not a problem in any of the other states. Why can’t we have it? Why is same day voter registration a problem? Why is it that you want to say that in accounting the size of Harris County they should always be limited to one drop box when you have 4 million ballots? Actually, no county should have more than one dropbox. Just all of these arbitrary things and what people need to understand is that it only takes a little bit for them to retain power. They don’t have to do anything even though they’ve given us almost 50 pages of wide, sweeping nonsense.”
Crockett said this mattered because of how close election results were, especially in certain House and Senate seats.
“I won my race by 90 votes,” she said. “When we look at the House which has 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, if we would have flipped the House, we wouldn’t have to deal with the majority of this nonsense and we dealt with the depression because we could have blocked everything on the House that we would have been fine with. We could have blocked all that nonsense and never would have made it right. We were nine seats away from flipping the House.”
The legislative exodus
After blocking the bill during the regular legislative session, Abbott called a special session in Austin. Knowing they were outnumbered by Republicans who had pushed for stricter voting laws; Texas Democrats discussed another power play. Crockett said she and her fellow colleagues had to strategically plan an exit trip from the Texas Capitol.
“The final question was ‘Where do we go?’” she said. “There were a couple of schools of thought. One was to go to New Mexico, the other was to go to D.C. I understood the economics of going to New Mexico, I get it. But my attitude has always been that you can’t put a price on something like democracy. I can’t put a monetary amount on that because there are people that have died to fight for our rights to vote. When we look at John Lewis, who was beaten, not only in Selma, but other places in jails, I don’t know how many countless times the idea that money would be the thing to prevent us from getting to the place, the only place they could provide us any type of relief. It just didn’t make sense. Because it’s not just about killing these terrible bills, it’s about making sure that we get some kind of cover. I think everybody kind of understood it was a matter of stepping out of faith that we will be able to afford being in D.C. for this amount of time. We truly have had the benefit of having so many people just appreciate what we’re doing and willing to be supportive of this cause that we’re okay. We made the right decision. But we needed to be in D.C. because this is the only place that really can trump what’s going on in Texas.”
The House representative said one of the many challenges she and others had to deal with while taking refuge in D.C. is following CDC guidelines and COVID-19 protocols, especially with the new variant spreading around throughout the U.S.
Crockett said it is worth it to pursue this action to stop SB 7 even though Abbott has threatened to arrest the Democrats who have fled the state during this session. She said she knew she had the support of her constituents and was moved to tears when a woman recently brought her little girl to visit her.
“That was a tearjerker, and it was a tearjerker for me to talk about it on that day,” she said. “I tell people all the time I think the kids like me better than their parents. I was visited by a little supporter named Abby. She’s not the first kiddo in my office, and I’m sure she won’t be the last. She was looking at me so intently right on the phone and her mom was actually standing behind her. Her mom got emotional and said she had to bring her daughter to my office. She said she wanted to get pictures in my office. She was talking about being able to kind of share this with her daughter as she got older and so as it turns out, they are in my district as well.
“I really do have the best district and constituents in the state. Her mom was getting tearful just talking about how proud she was and how it meant the world to her to know that I was fighting with everything that I had to make sure that some sense of justice is ushered in Texas. We both started crying. I’m looking at this beautiful little girl thinking if there’s anything I can do to save you from this, I will. As emotional as it makes me every time I think about it, it only strengthens my resolve.
“And sadly enough, not every one of my colleagues has that experience. They don’t necessarily know if you come from a district that you got by 51%, that means you have 49% of your district that are haters. I think that that’s why someone who’s like me has to be willing to be on the front lines, it has to be willing to speak out regardless of what the governor says. I can’t be unafraid. We’re not stupid. The only thing that we’ve sought is oversight and protection because Texas has to conditionally be told you’re racist or you just hate poor people. They have to be told those things. Unless you have federal legislation that says hey, Texas you screwed up again, you started beating up on the little guy over there, or you started beating up on the Black or Brown person over there, then we won’t have the checks and the checks and balances that we need.”