AUSTIN, Texas — Texas House Democrats are not letting up as they continue to rally a massive coalition calling urgently for federal voting rights protections. Today, three Texas House Democrats testified before the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform — in a hearing called specifically to address the attacks on voting rights in Texas. The delegation of resistors also met virtually Thursday with Leader Stacey Abrams, President Bill Clinton, and Secretary Hillary Clinton, and will meet later in the day with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters.
House Democratic Caucus Dean Rep. Senfronia Thompson, Texas Legislative Black Caucus Chair Rep. Nicole Collier, and Rep. Diego Bernal gave powerful testimony on the ways Texas Republicans’ anti-voter bills would make voting harder for Texans — especially Texans of color — and drag Texas once again into Jim Crow-style voter intimidation. The lawmakers argued passionately for the urgent need for federal protections to defend voting rights against assaults from Republican state legislators. The following are quotes from today’s Congressional hearing. The full recording is available here.
Chairman Jamie Raskin (MD): “Earlier this year, legislators in Texas unveiled perhaps the most aggressive set of proposals for voting restrictions anywhere in the country — 65 different anti-voter bills. Dramatic restrictions on mail-in voting, vastly increased criminal liability for people who help their family or their friends to vote or bring their ballot to the mailbox, increasingly stringent voter ID requirements, and more and more criminalization of what goes on in the polling place. Enhanced protections for partisan poll workers who set out to intimidate voters. Additional limits on how election officials encourage voters to participate, and at one point — somebody’s gonna have to explain this to me — it’s made a crime to encourage people to vote. I think if I’m reading this proposal correctly, they make it a crime to encourage people to vote. I don’t see how that can possibly square with the First Amendment of the United States….Finally, this bill targets reforms that were successfully implemented last year by Harris County, such as driving voting and 24 hour voting that were mainly utilized by African American and Latino voters. The Texas Civil Rights Project estimates that over half of all ballots cast, using those methods, were cast by voters of color.”
Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (NY): “Texas remains the hardest state in the entire country for Americans to vote. Texas has repeatedly refused to implement reforms that would support greater voter engagement. In 2013, the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder blocked the Department of Justice from overseeing elections in places that historically discouraged and suppressed the votes of Black, Latino, and other communities of color. Since that decision, Texas has renewed its voter suppression with a vengeance. It has closed 750 polling sites, including 452 polling sites in counties with the largest increases in Black and Latino voters, and more than any other state in the union. Now Texas Republicans are trying to add new restrictions to voting. Let’s be clear about these bills — what they are and what they are not. These bills are not an effort to make voting in Texas more secure. These bills are part of a racist campaign to decide who gets the right to vote. These bills take power and choice away from the people of Texas, and let the politicians decide who their voters are. Simply put, these bills are an attack on voters and all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”
House Democratic Caucus Dean Senfronia Thompson: “I’m here because this is the seat of democracy, and my people who I represent have a right to be able to vote unabridged, just like all of you. You may not want to recognize that but we still have those rights. That’s why I’m here. I’m here fighting for them. And I have the right to fight for them. And someday I’m hoping that I don’t have to keep fighting this fight — that my grandchildren, my grandchildren’s children, will not have to keep repeating these struggles. I was born in Texas. And I can tell you, just from my testimony as a child, my grandmother used to work and earn $2 a week…and out of those $2 a week she used to save pennies and nickels to be able to buy a poll tax. The poll tax, as you know, was created to give people an opportunity to invest in public education support. But if you were white, the grandfather clause took care of you — you didn’t have to pay the poll tax….
“I left Texas to give my people a right to be able to vote without them being infringed upon. I had a chance to vote in 2010 and 2012, when poll watchers came to my precinct where I vote personally. Let me tell you the chilling effect of that. There were people who looked like they were from the Proud Boys, who’d walk in and look at you like you were in the wrong place. In a minority area, that has a chilling effect. That chilling effect is depression of voting. Intimidation by any other name is still intimidation, and the word gets out that these people are at your polls, looking at you like they want to arrest you, keep you from voting. And people as a result of that do not go and cast their vote.”
Texas Legislative Black Caucus Chair Nicole Collier: “Some of you may be asking, ‘you know, why did we ring the alarm, why are we raising the concern about what’s going on in Texas.’ Well, it’s not just happening in Texas, it’s happening across our country. We have seen a concerted effort in various states to pass legislation that would limit access to the ballot….and what is happening in Texas is no different….
“What happened in Texas is that we tried to work with our colleagues. We provided amendments. Representative Thompson sat through more than 23 hours of testimony. 400 people came and spoke against this bill. And yet all the amendments that were presented by our Democratic colleagues were declined on party lines….Our backs were against the wall.”
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund Vice-President of Litigation Nina Perales: “Two bills currently pending in the Texas Legislature, SB 1 and HB 3, seek to suppress minority voter participation and thwart the emergence of a more racially diverse Texas electorate. The Texas bills deprive Latino voters of lawful voter assistance. A significant number of Latino as well as Asian American voters rely on language assistance in the polling place, from family members, friends or neighbors….Provisions [in these bills] ensure that not only will voters be intimidated by unrestrained poll watchers, but election officials will also be intimidated by the threat of severe penalties for stepping in and trying to protect voters from call water interference. Latino voters in Texas have borne the brunt of more than a century of voter intimidation at the polls. There is every reason to believe that removing security measures inside polling places will result in more intimidation of Latino voters.”
Rep. Diego Bernal: “[As a language assistor, under provisions of these bills], I’m not sure if I’m about to perjure myself. I’m not sure if I’m about to commit a crime. And so some people will stay. But some people will go….Do we finish casting the ballot? If we do, does [the voter] want to come back to that same environment? What’s the word of mouth when we get home, as that experience spreads like wildfire? Bad chisme. That can’t possibly be who we are, and the idea that this bill makes voting easier — I can’t see how.”