There are two historical landmarks, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, worth citing in the current debate over every citizen’s right to vote and the ease and security enabling them to vote.

You will not hear either one referenced by the Republican majority in Texas as Gov. Greg Abbott reconvenes legislators for a special session on July 8 to take up a previously failed voter suppression bill.

Yes, voter suppression, not voter integrity. I’ll defend that in a moment. In Texas and throughout the former Confederacy, the efforts to get in the way of people of color voting go back more than 150 years. That isn’t opinion. That’s history.

Notwithstanding the U.S. Supreme Court’s highly political ruling Thursday in support of Arizona’s voter suppression law, no credible evidence has been produced in that state, in Texas, or anywhere else to support claims of voter fraud or election misconduct. The United States does not have an election integrity problem. It does have a voter turnout challenge made worse by conservative lawmakers comfortable restricting the vote.

Now, with Abbott calling a special legislative session, Texas will again attempt to join other Republican controlled state legislative bodies that have passed laws establishing new barriers to voting. The proposed Texas law, if passed, will surely impose new restrictions on county election officials who seek to innovate under circumstances like the pandemic to make it easier for people to vote safely and conveniently. That would be yet another step backward as local control continues to come under attack.

Conservative Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority after the Court’s 6-3 decision, strangely cited states’ rights to pass legislation guarding against voter fraud in a case where no fraud has been credibly asserted.

The decision bodes poorly for pro-democracy and civic engagement groups who have looked to the federal courts to serve as a check on partisan legislators playing to primary voters. The various state legislative bodies acting now are doing so in coordinated unison in response to former President Donald Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden in the November 2020 election, and Trump’s widely echoed false claims of voter fraud and electoral mismanagement.

Thursday’s ruling strikes at the heart of the Voting Rights Act, specifically, Section Two of the act, which affords protection to eligible voters who historically were denied access to the polls because of racial discrimination. That act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson after 95 years of Southern resistance to the 15th Amendment, passed in 1870 in the post-Civil War years.

Section One of the amendment states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Any student of U.S. history knows the Union’s victory in the Civil War, the subsequent period of Reconstruction, and passage of the 15th Amendment did little in the end to give formerly enslaved people and people of color the right to vote in former Confederate states. The Voting Rights Act aimed to put teeth into the amendment. Yet it has come under periodic challenge since 1965 and now faces yet another effort to limit its reach.

Why do I describe proposed legislation in Texas and other states as voter suppression? In short, the new laws in Georgia and Arizona, and proposed law in Texas aim to stop efforts to make it easier for people to register and to vote. That especially hits minority voters, who tend to have transportation challenges, less ability to leave work to vote, less access to the internet and information, and in some cases, language barriers and difficulty proving citizenship.

Noelia Wilson holds up two signs in support of protecting Texas voters as cars pass by on Market Street. Wilson explained that having extended voting hours would make it easier for her to vote ad work around her work hours. She also shared that voting by mail is crucial for individuals like her elderly mother who is not easily mobile.
Noelia Wilson holds up two signs in support of Texas voters as cars pass by on Market Street. Wilson says extended voting hours would make it easier for her to vote around her work hours. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

In an era when technology has changed the way we do everything, from communicating near and far, to shopping, to spending money, to doing virtually everything, government at all levels should be using technology to make it easier for citizens to vote, to participate in government, and to enjoy new levels of transparency into the governing process.

Why can’t people register to vote online? Why isn’t registration mandatory in Texas for high school students when they reach the age of 18? Why doesn’t Texas adopt universal acceptance of IDs permitted in other official settings?

The proposed legislation seeks to stop election officials from expanding access to mail-in ballots and encroaches on their ability to increase the number of polling sites, their locations, and operating hours. Drive-through voting sites, used in Houston, will be outlawed. So will 24-hour voting. Expanded early voting periods will be prohibited.

Nothing in the proposed legislation aims to grow voter registration or turnout at the polls.

The goal for Texas legislators should be to increase citizen participation in all elections. Talk of voter fraud should stop unless there is evidence to support it. Of course, the backroom architects of voter restrictive legislation make no pretense of building and strengthening democracy. Instead, they claim to be protecting us against the voter fraud they’ve never been able to find.

The only voter fraud in Texas commences July 8, when legislators answer Abbott’s call to the special session.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.