Securing the right to vote has long been a struggle in Texas. The state continues to pass legislation with the intent and effect of discriminating against communities of color, with the ultimate result of disenfranchisement.
In 2016, TCRP launched our new Voting Rights Program to fight back — we stood against efforts to suppress the vote and worked hand-in-hand with national and grassroots partners to spearhead the Texas Election Protection Coalition.
Through our Take Back the Vote efforts, TCRP is committed to bringing national awareness to voter suppression efforts and working to build the capacity of grassroots organizers and other advocates in Texas working to make sure every eligible voter can cast a ballot that counts.
In fall 2016, TCRP spearheaded the nonpartisan Texas Election Protection Coalition by connecting the national efforts of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights with local grassroots initiatives. TCRP trained legal volunteers in Texas to answer calls from a national hotline and help voters in select polling locations and reached over 1 million people with information about the State’s voter ID law.
Using the information we gathered through the election protection efforts and conducting our own analysis of the provisional ballots in Texas’ five most populous counties, we published the most thorough analysis of the problems faced by voters in the 2016 election cycle.
Texas’ archaic and outdated voter registration system creates barriers to casting a ballot well before a voter even arrives at the polls. Among a myriad of other problems, hundreds of voters could not be found on the Texas Secretary of State’s website due to slight discrepancies in names or addresses and many voters mistakenly believed they were registered but were not because the state fails to comply with the federal “motor voter” law.
When Texas implemented its restrictive voter ID law in 2013, an estimated 600,000 registered Texans immediately became unable to vote because they lacked sufficient ID. Unsurprisingly, as soon as Early Voting began, there were rampant reports of confusion concerning the recent court-ordered changes to Texas’ strict photo ID requirement. Nearly 13 percent of problems reported to the Coalition involved photo ID.
Texas has closed more than 403 polling locations since the Voting Rights Act was gutted in 2013 by the Supreme Court. Despite these closures, the Texas Election Code requires that notices be posted on the county website and, if the location has changed since the preceding election, election officials should post a notice at the previous location, if possible during voting. However, in 2016, the Coalition received calls indicating some counties did not adequately comply with notice requirements — leading to confusion among voters, particularly in Houston.
Long lines were reported in multiple locations in Texas throughout the 2016 election season. During Early Voting, wait times exceeding an hour were reported in Bexar, Harris, Nueces, and Denton counties and, on Election Day, wait times in excess of three hours were reported at a polling location near Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university west of Houston.
Sadly, there were scattered reports of voter intimidation across Texas on Election Day. Unfortunately, this is not a new experience — voter intimidation has a troubling history in the United States and in Texas in particular. In one instance, in Spring, Texas, an armed man intimidated voters with a signed that read “Faggots Vote Democrat.” He was eventually handcuffed after he crossed the 100-foot line over which campaigning is prohibited.