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Politics

Civil Rights Groups Say Efforts To Limit Voting Backfired As Turnout Continues To Surge In Texas

Election signs at a polling site in Williamson County.
Julia Reihs
/
KUT
A polling site in Williamson County is covered with election signs. Seventy percent of registered voters in the county had cast ballots by the afternoon Election Day.

Texas has consistently led the nation in voter turnout during this presidential election despite many barriers to voting, civil rights advocates say.

Many Texas counties have surpassed 70% turnout so far, including Williamson County. Some experts estimate as many as 12 million votes will be cast in the election – uncharted territory for the state.

Leading up to the election, though, voting groups feared barriers to voting put in place by the state’s Republican leadership would suppress the vote.

Mimi Marziani, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said that includes Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to limit all counties in the state to only one ballot drop-off location for people voting by mail.

“The folks running the state have used every trick in the book to try to make voting more difficult,” she said.

Texas was one of a few states that decided not to expand access to mail-in ballots during the pandemic. Under state law, a voter must be over 65, disabled, out of town or in jail but not convicted to vote absentee. Despite calls from voting groups to expand access to the program as COVID-19 cases spiked, state officials refused.

Instead, the state’s embattled attorney general, Ken Paxton, threatened to prosecute voters who sought an absentee ballot but did not qualify for one.

Ahead of the election, Republicans sued Abbott over his decision to expand early voting to three weeks. They asked courts to order the state to reduce it to two. Republicans also filed a lawsuit aimed at disqualifying votes cast using curbside voting in Harris County.

"We are getting a lot of anecdotal evidence that people are really revved up about going to vote precisely because they are seeing the voter suppression tactics from the state and others. I think that's a huge driving force."

During a briefing with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Marziani said many things made taking part in the election harder for voters. But, she said, those efforts didn’t stop Texans from voting.

“Voters in Texas have had enough,” she said. “And I actually do think that part of what we are seeing is a reaction to that. That folks are refusing to stand on the sidelines and we are seeing that legendary Texas grit.”

Austin resident Leslie Riddel said she voted by mail for health reasons. She said state officials were dissuading people from voting absentee, which she called “screwed up.” It only made her want to vote more.

“I was like, ‘Damn, I am going to do this,’” Riddel said.

Edgar Saldivar, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, said voters have been “ticked off” by lawsuits and orders from state officials that have stood in the way of making voting safer during the pandemic.

“We are getting a lot of anecdotal evidence that people are really revved up about going to vote precisely because they are seeing the voter suppression tactics from the state and others,” he said. “I think that’s a huge driving force.”

Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said she hopes this election is a sign to state lawmakers that voters want the state to revisit current barriers to voting.

“We are hoping we are going to see improved election laws that will make it so that voting is easier and that voters don’t have to jump through so many hoops,” she said. “It shouldn’t be like this. Voting should be easy.”

Got a tip? Email Ashley Lopez at alopez@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.

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