The state of Texas is notorious for voter suppression. For more than 20 years, Republicans have dominated the state of Texas not on the strength of their ideas and candidates, but on their unmatched ability to suppress and depress Democratic voter turnout.
That began to change last year with the senate campaign of Beto O’Rourke who registered thousands of new voters and came up just short of beating the most hated man in the U.S. Senate, Ted Cruz (at a Washington Foundation Press Club’s congressional dinner, Sen. Lindsey Graham joked about Cruz’s murder: “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”) In the 2018 election, Democrats flipped 12 seats in the Texas House on the strength of Beto O’Rourke’s campaign.
In 2020, Democrats need 9 seats to flip the Texas House. Here are 22 opportunities. Six Republican members of Congress retired this year leaving six open House seats up for grabs. Opinion: How Texas will turn blue in November.
In the presidential race, recent polls show Vice President Joe Biden tied or slightly ahead of Donald Trump – something unimaginable for any Republican candidate in the last 20 years. Polling in the U.S. Senate race is more mixed, with some polls showing Democratic newcomer M.J. Hegar within the margin of error chasing Republican Senator John Cornyn.
So Republican Governor Gregg Abbott turned to voter suppression: he limited early ballot drop off boxes to one per county to make returning early ballots difficult.
A federal judge issued an order Friday night barring enforcement of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Oct. 1 proclamation that limited counties to one mail-in ballot drop-off location.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman said Abbott’s order placed an unacceptable burden on the voting rights of elderly and disabled Texans, who are most likely to request a mail-in ballot and to hand-deliver those ballots early to ensure that they are counted.
These voters are also particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the judge said.
“By limiting ballot return centers to one per county, older and disabled voters living in Texas’s largest and most populous counties must travel further distances to more crowded ballot return centers where they would be at an increased risk of being infected by the coronavirus in order to exercise their right to vote and have it counted,” Pitman wrote.
“By forcing absentee voters to risk infection with a deadly disease to return their ballots in person or disenfranchisement if the (Postal Service) is unable to deliver their ballots in time, the October 1 Order imposes a burden on an already vulnerable voting population,” he said.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office defended Abbott’s order, is likely to appeal the ruling.
Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said the ruling thwarted Abbott’s attempt at voter suppression.
“Judge Pitman’s common sense order followed well-established law and stopped the governor from making up election rules after the election started,” Hinojosa said. “Frankly, it ought to be a shock to all of us that such a ruling is even required.”
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Arguing before the judge, lawyers for Abbott disputed claims that his order limited voting rights, saying the governor acted to expand opportunities and options for voters during the pandemic.
Abbott’s first election-related order, issued July 27, added six days of early voting and suspended a state law that allows voters to hand-deliver mail-in ballots only on Election Day, lawyer Eric Hudson told the judge.
In effect, Abbott gave voters almost 40 extra days to hand-deliver their ballots, Hudson argued, adding that on Oct. 1, Abbott clarified his earlier order by limiting counties to one drop-off location where poll watchers must be allowed to observe ballot deliveries by voters.
But in his Friday ruling, Pitman said the order limiting drop-off locations subjected voters to unequal treatment if they lived in more heavily populated counties.
“This disparate treatment is evident in the increased distance, increased wait time, and increased potential for exposure to the coronavirus experienced by absentee voters living in larger, more populous counties,” he wrote.
Abbott’s “unilateral decision,” the judged added, fueled an unacceptable amount of voter confusion, particularly because it came after voters had already begun receiving absentee ballots “and just days before the start of early voting” on Tuesday.
Pitman also rejected Abbott’s argument that he was promoting election integrity, saying the order had the opposite affect because voters who hand-deliver their ballots must sign a register and show photo ID, steps they don’t take when sending a ballot by mail.
From the court’s order on the Purcell Principle timing issue:
Here, the Court has been asked, by Plaintiffs and Defendant County Clerks, to reduce or eliminate what would amount to executive-caused voter confusion on the eve of an election. Governor Abbott’s unilateral decision to reverse his July 27 Order after officials already began sending out absentee ballots and just days before the start of early voting in Texas has caused voter confusion. (See e.g. Hollins Decl., Dkt. 8-1, at 7). Even without declaratory evidence, it is apparent that closing ballot return centers at the last minute would cause confusion, especially when those centers were deemed safe, authorized, and, in fact, advertised as a convenient option just months ago. As such, the Court’s injunction supports the Purcell principle that courts should avoid issuing orders that cause voters to become confused and stay away from the polls. 549 U.S. 1, 4–5.
To the extent that this Court’s injunction to reinstate the ballot return centers does potentially cause confusion, the Court is satisfied that it would be minimal and outweighed by the increase in voting access. Since Governor Abbott closed previously-sanctioned centers, there is confusion: (1) confusion resulting from a voter trying to cast a ballot at a center she thought was open—because it used to be—but which is now closed or (2) confusion resulting from a voter trying to cast a ballot at a center that she thought was recently closed but is now open again.11 Between these two choices, the Court is of the opinion that the second scenario is the more favorable and just choice: it is the only choice that restores the status quo and likely reduces confusion on the eve of an election, and it results in a greater chance that a ballot can be cast at a ballot return center that was previously available to voters—after being vetted as safe and secure and publicly touted as a viable option to exercise voting rights. See Ely v. Klahr, 403 U.S. 108, 113 (1971) (affirming district court decision where “the court chose what it considered the lesser of two evils”).
Assuming this rightly decided opinion is not reversed by the Republican “stacked” 5th Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court, this will greatly improve early ballot returns in Texas.
Long a conservative bastion, Texas is turning purple, and it’s happening in suburbs like those between Dallas and Fort Worth. This is the fastest-growing place in America, transformed by a population boom and growing diversity. Trump is losing the suburbs, and Texas is up for grabs (video).
I spent several months in Texas over the past two years, and I can tell you that the urban centers of Texas are becoming heavily Democratic, maybe enough to offset the rural Republican areas of the state.
If Republicans lose their “anchor state” of Texas’s 38 electoral college votes, they are done as a national political party in presidential elections.
Going forward, the state legislature is the key. How down-ballot candidates could help Democrats flip Texas:
Wendy Davis, who’s now a candidate for Congress, noticed a key difference between O’Rourke’s Senate race and the Texas Democratic campaigns of 2014: There was a robust lineup of Democratic candidates down ballot running for the U.S. House, the state Legislature and other local campaigns. That wasn’t the case in 2014.
Those candidates knocked on doors, raised money, showed up to Rotary Club meetings and de-stigmatized Democrats in once-hostile territory.
Some even won.
Davis said those down-ballot races were key to O’Rourke’s performance. And she’s not the only one to think so.
“Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” O’Rourke said last week in an interview with The Texas Tribune, concurring with Davis’ analysis of his race.
Texas remained the country’s largest red state in 2018. Republicans have won every statewide race in Texas since 1998, and a Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t won Texas since Jimmy Carter in 1976. But for 18 months, statewide polls showed 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is outperforming past nominees’ margins in Texas. And a question that often elicits eyerolls is now a point of serious debate: Can Democrats flip Texas?
The battle for the state’s 38 electoral votes won’t come down to a savior candidate or some supersonic smart national strategist.
Instead, the fate of Texas in November could rest on the backs of dozens of mostly obscure Democratic candidates who are competing for legislative and congressional seats in the suburbs that have been strongly Republican.
“If Biden wins on election night in Texas, the first time since 1976, the credit will really be due to these candidates — most of them who by the way are women, women of color and Black women of color in particular,” O’Rourke said.
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Rebecca Acuña, the lead Biden staffer in Texas and a veteran of several Texas political showdowns, credits Democratic operatives and politicians who kept going through the party’s years in the wilderness.
“We have been through hell and back in the past decade, but all the while focused on building the infrastructure at the Texas Democratic Party necessary to meet this very moment,” said Manny Garcia, the executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.
That strategy has continued in 2020, where Democrats have a chance of flipping the state House and winning more congressional seats. A slew of candidates are running in and around all of Texas’ big cities, in seats that were never intended to be competitive when the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature redrew congressional and legislative districts in 2012.
But in those eight years, millions of people moved to Texas; and Republicans have witnessed a collapse among college-educated voters and increasingly diversifying suburbs.
And with more national and local money pouring into those down-ballot races, political experts say that could have a major effect upstream on the ballot.
“Normally, House and down-ballot candidates are desperate for presidential investment,” said Amy Walter, a political analyst at the Cook Political Report. “In this case, I think that all the money being poured into suburban [congressional districts] and battleground state [legislative] districts could help boost Biden.”
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Democrats are investing big money in Texas campaigns through national and local fundraising. Some Democratic candidates are able to spend heavily on TV ads and own get-out-the-vote campaigns.
Trump must win Texas, but Democrats can win without it. The Democratic thinking for months has been that if Biden wins Texas, Democrats will already have secured the 270 electoral votes needed to win in states like Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But the symbolism of winning Texas is clear.
Earlier this week, O’Rourke co-wrote a Washington Post op-ed lobbying for more Biden spending in Texas. He argued that Texas could deliver an election night knockout of Trump that would eliminate any post-election argument from the president over the legitimacy of mail-in ballots.
The Biden campaign has been receptive to expanding its presence in Texas. It launched a $6 million ad campaign in the state this week, building on ads that have been airing for months as part of a national advertising campaign. The campaign also touted on Tuesday that there are now more than 60 paid staffers in the state. It’s all a pittance compared to investments in places like Florida, but it’s a staggering escalation compared with past Democratic presidential campaigns in Texas. While Texas isn’t vital to Biden’s prospects, the importance of winning the largest red state isn’t lost on the campaign.
“We didn’t just wake up and say ‘We think we can win Texas this year,’ Acuña said. “We’ve been working for this moment.”
This Texas Tribune article goes much more in depth and is worth the read.
If Democrats can take the Texas House, they can prevent the gerrymandering that has kept them out of power for over 20 years, and begin to reverse all of the GOP voter suppression measures enacted by Republicans. This bodes well for statewide offices going forward. The current corrupt regime in Texas needs to be kicked out of office.