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Democrats Say Voting Law Targeting Harris County Could Inspire A Backlash

Sophia DeLoretto-Chudy holds a sign calling to end voter suppression at a press conference by youth leadership and voting rights organization Texas Rising Action outside of the Texas State Capitol in April of 2021.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT News
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Sophia DeLoretto-Chudy holds a sign calling to end voter suppression at a press conference by youth leadership and voting rights organization Texas Rising Action outside of the Texas State Capitol in April of 2021.

Drive-through voting, 24-hour voting and mailings of unsolicited absentee ballot applications were all among the methods Harris County used to encourage participation in last year's election. Now, all three are banned under the new voting bill set to be signed into law by the governor on Tuesday. But did Republicans overplay their hand by appearing to take on Harris County, and how might the new law backfire against the Texas GOP?

Jeremy Wallace has been writing about this for the Houston Chronicle, where he covers Texas politics. He told Texas Standard that Democrats say Harris County voters may be angry enough about new voting restrictions to take it out on GOP candidates, and increase Democratic voter turnout.

"And that's bad news for Republicans who have generally been losing Harris County worse and worse with each election cycle," Wallace said.

Wallace says Democrats have told him that civil rights issues, like voting rules that are said to disproportionately impact voters of color, motivate Democratic voters and make them angry, where other kinds of issues might not affect turnout. Wallace quotes State Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) saying "We're not going to turn back the hands of time here."

Like Miles, voters in Sunnyside and in Houston's Fifth Ward believe the voting bill was "directed at them," Wallace said.

He says those strong feelings could give Democrats extra motivation to turn out during next year's midterm elections.

However, passing laws aimed at reigning in cities like Houston and Austin plays well with Republican voters, Wallace said, which accounts for the GOP's decision to pass voting rules that will affect communities where they're already unlikely to win.

"The problem is that Harris County has become so big that you can only afford to lose it by so much," Wallace said. "This is a place where Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton all won statewide in 2014, but then all lost in Harris County."

Patrick only got 51% of the vote statewide in 2018. Wallace says that thin margin can be traced back to a poor performance in Harris County for the lieutenant governor.

Correction: The original version of this story and the attached audio incorrectly stated Harris County sent unsolicited absentee ballots through the mail. The text has been edited to say the mailings were of absentee ballot applications.