By SELENA SEABROOKS
The Dallas Examiner
The Texas Senate recently passed a sweeping election bill that Democrats fear would suppress voters’ rights; specifically affecting African Americans and Latino Americans by cutting early voting options and empowering partisan poll watchers.
On April 12, a media conference was held at the Texas State Capital to address the new bills. Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, opened the press conference.
“We’re here today in order to reach out to the people of this great state and pled for their help. Our democracy is in jeopardy,” he said. “Numerous voting rights bills are pending before the Texas legislature that are designed to move us backwards and severely compromise African American and Latino voters.”
“Some state leaders have suggested, since race is not expressly mentioned in the bills, that nothing could be farther from the truth and that race is not involved. However, the Poll Tax, Literacy List, and Grandfather Clause did not mention race expressly either, but their intent and outcomes clearly were racist. These bills are just as bigoted and designated to suppress African American and Latino votes. When you prohibit Sunday voting, you destroy our community Soles to the Poles initiative. It doesn’t say Blacks can’t vote on Sunday, but they know that our largest voting day is on Sunday and they’re eliminating it. Genius is not required to figure out that, which group of Texans are being harmed by this.
He said that requiring voting sites to have the same voting capacity in certain counties would negatively impact urban communities, which are predominantly minority areas, much like the poll tax or the Grandfather Clause did previously.
“Too many poll watchers act as vigilantes in minority neighborhoods and disrespect the election officials and the voters,” he continued. “This past election, there were poll watchers who were exceptionally rude to election officials and minority voters. Some even antagonized Black and Brown voters, getting very close to them while not wearing masks. After some poll watchers refused to be respectful, they were threatened with expulsion from the polling places by minority voting officials.”
Bledsoe explained that the new law will change this practice and would prohibit election judges from having the authority to get rid of vigilante poll watchers.
“These new laws are arming poll watchers with their comments, bias and false beliefs. It permits them to go in and intimate with impunity, African American and Latino voters and to disrupt minority voting areas. We can’t give credence to people who don’t know what Jim Crow looks like for them to simply say race isn’t involved and then believe it … We don’t have to title the bill voter suppression for us to know that’s what it does. When people who have never experienced racism tell a person with lived experiences of racism that it doesn’t exist, they are not the victims and cannot do this,” Bledsoe stated.
He then introduced Dr. Daryl Horton of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Austin as the facilitator of the event.
“We have come here this morning as a coalition of Texas faith leaders and we have come here not the same, we come here from different faith traditions, different denominations, we come here with the same cause. And that is we believe in, and our hearts have been convicted and our faith teaches us that God loves all people,” he said. “So, we come here this morning to recognize those who are not often unrecognized, those who are unheard, those who are unseen, because we believe their voices should be heard and we stand together today because we believe there is currently legislation in the House that’s limiting the voices of the people we serve.”
Horton mentioned various organizations that were standing with them in opposition of voter suppression – Baptist Ministers’ Union of Austin, United States Christian Leadership Organization, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, The NAACP, Texas State Conference, State Representative Ron Reynold’s office, League of United Latin-American Citizens and Texas Impact.
“Voter suppression will not be tolerated,” he stated.
Several speakers appeared in-person and via videoconference. All provided statements in support of opposing voter suppression. Speakers included Rev. Dr. Carolyn Hessel; Rev. Steve Miller, founder and president of the United States Christian Leadership Organization; Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact; Rabbi Neal Blumofe; Hailey Byerly from Students Mobilizing Change; Khalid Shaheed of Faith Forward Dallas; Minister Chris Harrison; Sr. Pastor Billy McClendon of St. James Missionary Baptist Church; Rabbi David Segal of Texas Religious Action Center of Reform; Commissioner Jeffrey Travillian of Travis County Precinct 1; Rev. Reginald Lillie, chair of the Texas State NAACP Religious Affairs Committee; and State Representative Ron Reynolds of House District 27.
Hessel urged the public to assist in this mission by signing the petition provided on EveryVoteTx.org and calling legislators to encourage them to vote “No” on the new voting bills.
“Without the right to vote, there is no Civil Rights Movement,” Miller said. “Without the right to vote, there’s no controlling your own destiny, and without the right to vote right, there’s no such thing as a nation as voting is a fundamental and ontological building block of a democracy and a free society. And without a vote, you have no voice. And without a voice, your rights are guaranteed to be trampled upon, ignored, and overridden.”
“Senate Bill 7, House Bill 6, and the many other poisonous bills in their camp are legislations founded on big lies. Texans of faith and conscious, you need to help your representatives side with the good,” Moorhead stated.
“We are exhausted of waking up with heavy hearts. We are tired of trials occurring on the sidewalks and not the courts. We are tired of being divided as a nation. There’s power in the people. There’s power in the pulpit. There’s power in the tools in which we have been provided with today. There’s power in voting,” Byerly said.
“It is time to stop voter suppression. It has been too long. We need to move the opposite direction to open up voting rights and rules so people can get to the polls or they can vote absentee. It’s time for this suppression, which is just the byproduct of racism and white supremacy, to end,” Harrison stated.
“We are not at a place in this country where we have addressed our structural problems. We’re not at a place in this country where we’ve been fair to our citizens. We must work together. We must fight together. We must win this because this defines our soul. How is it that we tell others around the world that they should follow democrat principles, when we fight against them ourselves in our own legislation,” Travillian expressed.
“I will submit to you today that we are speaking out. We are speaking out for those who have historically been left out. The least, the last, and the lost. We are speaking out because we know, as you heard, voting is a fundamental right that all Americans desire,” Reynolds said. “I am here right now with a call to action, a call to action for everyone to get engaged.”
Reynolds encouraged Texans to contact Gov. Greg Abbot, Lt Gov. Dan Patrick, House Rep. Dade Phelan, their state representatives and Sen. Ted Cruz.
“We believe in the power of prayer, but our faith teaches us that faith without work is dead,” he said in conclusion. “Now is the time to work and we need to work to sound the alarm bell before the bill gets to the floor…it’s not too late Texas … this is a critical call to action … ‘We shall overcome.’”
Texans were asked to complete three steps to fight against voter suppression:
- Visit the website and sign the petition.
- Click the link provided on the website to send an email of action to Texas state leaders.
- Call Texas state leaders and inform them that you want them to do the right thing.
A list of State leaders and their contact information is also provided on the website.
Horton then led a Q&A session, allowing questions from the media.
Question: Why do you think Republicans are filing these bills? Do you think they have enough evidence of voter fraud?
Reynolds: These bills are a solution to a search of a problem … There was no evidence from the Secretary of State of voter fraud in Texas,” State Rep. Reynolds responded and questioned why state leaders were filing the bills. “The breadth of the bills across the state, across this country, it is unprecedented and there’s no evidence to support it,” he commented. He stated that the claims of voter fraud made by former President Trump were invalidated, false, and rejected by the courts. “These bills are nothing but partisan attempts to really thump the scale in favor of those who are on the right. It is to suppress African American and Hispanic votes,” he said. “We are here because some are not pleased with the outcome of the election. They want to change the game. They want to rewrite the rules and they want to make it more difficult for some to cast a ballot that they believe represents the opposite party and that is un-American and that’s unpatriotic,” he closed with.
Bledsoe added that 49.4% of the adult population in Texas is made up of African Americans and Latin Americans combined, according to the 2010 Census. He explained that when the Asian population is added, over 50% of the Texas population is a minority.
“There is a desire to make sure that a small population of White citizens can continue to dominate the politics and elect who they want and do what they wish within the state government, so that is the reason why to put Black and Brown people under a thump and make sure they have control of the state of Texas,” he stated.
Question: What’s the response to these legislatives calling the bills colorblind?
Reynolds: I think personally that’s absurd. When you represent that this is color blind, I think you’re being very disingenuous. You know that the disparities exist. You know the people that it’s going to impact more than likely, and we have to be willing, as we all have today to speak truth to power. We have to be willing to call out those who are in power that are perpetuating a false narrative. There is no voter fraud that you’re going to fix with this. What you’re going to do is limit the access of those who potentially will not be able to vote.
Harrison: If you’re a legislator you got a choice. You can, where especially you have a large minority population that is growing, you can elect to serve the needs of the people in the minority population, the common people of Texas also, those most in need, or you can choose to suppress their voice. That’s the question today. Will you serve the people or will you hold them down.
Reynolds provided closing remarks.
“We want to appeal to your social consciousness to do the right thing. Do the right thing for all Texans, not for partisan politics. We should be beyond that … we must be the change that we want to see in this world…there’s strength in numbers,” he said.