Straight-up voter suppression shouldn’t be downplayed

Photo by Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

It is important that responsible public officials, and the media, push past the natural instinct to use soft words and indirect descriptions to discuss the type of straight-up voter suppression we are seeing in Texas. Discrimination wrapped in a false rationale and camouflaged by calm demeanor is no less wrong, no less immoral, than overt discrimination delivered with insults and epithets.

Every redistricting plan adopted by the Texas Republican majority in 2011 — Congress, state Senate and state House — was ruled to have violated the law and to have been adopted with discriminatory intent. The Texas Voter ID law adopted in 2011 was ruled to be intentionally discriminatory and the equivalent of a modern-day poll tax.

Political leaders who engage in vote suppression and discrimination don’t wave arms and hurl invectives while proposing and enacting laws to strip away voting rights. They carefully set up a false calculated rationale, and then calmly employ discriminatory laws and enforcement to solve a problem fabricated from the outset. They make voting seem difficult and risky to those citizens they see as a political threat.

We’ve seen this play out in Texas for nearly 20 years. As our population has become more diverse with Latinos, African Americans, Asians and other groups of Texans now outnumbering Anglos, the Republicans in power have seen a threat rather than an opportunity. 

Instead of seeking the support of non-Anglos, Texas leaders acted to undermine growing minority political influence by adopting discriminatory laws and enforcement policies. All the while, they’ve cloaked their actions in a false narrative — usually the dishonest claim of widespread voter fraud — and then masked their intentions with a calm demeanor. 

Even after more than a decade of federal court findings of intentional discrimination, Texas leaders continue to relentlessly suppress and undermine voting. Texas leaders have refused to provide Texas voters with the ability to register online unless ordered by the federal courts; and earlier this year, Texas leaders engaged in an effort to illegally purge thousands of Latino citizens from the voter rolls and were stopped only after a federal court order.

Right now, Texas lawmakers are debating Senate Bill 9, which has already been passed by the state Senate’s Republican majority and could soon be voted upon by the House, which also has a Republican majority. It’s designed to undermine and suppress participation in elections — especially by new voters. 

The GOP-backed bill creates criminal penalties for simple mistakes and typos on voter registration forms. It allows poll watchers to see the marked ballots of individual voters, violating their privacy. It even denies voters who need assistance from choosing for themselves the person they trust to help them.

This legislation, now being calmly pushed by political leaders who may appear reasonable, should be called out now for what it is — an insidious effort to intimidate voters, suppress voter participation and intentionally discriminate against Texas minority citizens. 

Marc Veasey

U.S. Representative, D-Fort Worth