The right to vote has never been a given, not in the past and not in a post–Shelby v. Holder world. It's certainly not a given in the Houston region. And the latest revelations from North Carolina suggest that the playing field is warping at an ever more disturbing pace. The baseless fears of fraud stirred up by the GOP have been not just misdirection but projection.
The people were already ready to get back in the fight after glimpsing, this November, the true scope of what we can do together. But the new possibility of foul play, alongside the undeniable consequences of continued voter suppression around the country along lines of race and class, must jolt every one of us into immediate action to protect the vote.
First let’s affirm a vision of what voting rights in Texas, and everywhere, should look like:
- Automatic and same-day registration.
- Independently drawn districts.
- No restrictive photo identification requirements.
- No-fault absentee voting.
- No long waiting period between registration and voting.
- Early voting for multiple weeks comprising full days.
- No felony-based restrictions.
- Election infrastructure capable of processing high turnout with short lines.
To these ends, here's what we can do next:
- Demand that every one of our new slate of congresspersons in the U.S. House of Representatives co-sponsor and vote in favor of HR-1, which seeks to establish national automatic voter registration, restore the Voting Rights Act, and enhance election security, as well as enact campaign finance reform and stronger government ethics. The representatives who say they fight for us must unequivocally demonstrate their commitment to these fundamental, non-partisan goals.
- Hold county clerk–elect Diane Trautman to her promise to make voting easier and faster by setting up county election centers at which any Harris County resident can vote, among other measures.
- Give time and money to organizations like Spread the Vote, which secures IDs for voters, and Houston Justice, which registers voters who have been incarcerated.
- Apply to become a poll worker and bring an informed and supportive presence to the polls.
- Undergo volunteer deputy voter registrar training in 2019 as soon as you can, then participate in voter registration events (check the newsletter from Harris County) and join VDVR groups for your area to find tips and opportunities to register voters. You can even get certified in more than one county.
Along with these actions, narratives matter too. We must conceive of the vote as a basic right, not a prize for good behavior. We must regard as an injury to democracy, a loss to the ideal of governance by the people, each bureaucratic hurdle that is supposed to deter a tiny number of inappropriate votes at the cost of measurably deterring exponentially more votes there would have been nothing wrong with. Remember that there was drop in turnout of 270,000 votes between the 2010 and 2014 Texas midterms, before and after Shelby. We ought to mourn the votes that should have been cast but weren't, and stand up for these voters with a hundred-fold the fervor that we’re told we’re supposed to feel for a single vote case wrongly.
There's cause for fear that the right to vote will continue to be compromised. But there's also much to hope for. In the lead-up to the midterms, the number of people who registered to vote in Texas from March to October 2018 was about double the final margin between the candidates in the most-watched statewide race. Better yet, Texans have rejuvenated an infrastructure and culture of activism and civic engagement that'll just keep growing. This energy will surely buoy us through not only the next big election year but also the much closer 2019 election for city council and mayor. Statewide victory for Texas progressives isn't inevitable yet, but the pathway is clear, and it runs through the local community.
The movement to claim the full power of the vote is fiercely principle driven and its ends within reach. Join us!