The state of Texas has a long and painful history of voter discrimination and intimidation dating back to the Reconstruction era. In the 1860s, Texas Gov. James Throckmorton refused to ratify the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. By refusing to support the amendment, which granted citizenship and equal protection under the laws to black Americans, Throckmorton was ordered to be removed from office by the federal government.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott recently made assertions that voting practices and redistricting in Texas were more about national politics, rather than constitutionally based rights. This is patently false, disingenuous and in direct contradiction to the history of racial politics in the Lone Star State. Jim Crow laws, literacy tests and poll taxes have been used throughout the state’s history. I had to pay a poll tax to vote in the first election that I participated in as a voter.
Mr. Abbott asserts that it is the job of the Texas Legislature to establish voting standards and draw congressional districts. The problem, however, is that the Legislature historically has drawn districts that have discriminated against minority voters.
Between 2000 and 2010, the population of Texas increased by 4.3 million people. Two-thirds of the growth occurred in the Hispanic community, while the black population increased by 11 percent. Despite these increases, the Republican controlled Legislature gerrymandered congressional districts such that the number of congressional seats in which a minority stood a chance of being elected declined from 11 to 10.
The Supreme Court and two federal courts have disagreed with the actions of Texas legislators. The federal courts found the redistricting plan and the voter-ID law that the legislature enacted unconstitutional. The Department of Justice found that the Legislature’s actions violated the Voting Rights Act and halted their implementation in 2012.
Mr. Abbott, Gov. Rick Perry and members of the Texas Legislature advocate for the use of voter-ID laws, allegedly to stop voter fraud. Studies have shown that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in Texas. This requirement is simply another way of suppressing votes of students, senior citizens, racial minorities and the nearly 700,000 registered voters in Texas who lack an approved voter ID. Perhaps Mr. Abbott should revisit our state’s history before implementing such a burdensome law. Voting is a right that binds all Americans, and every citizen should have the ability to participate in a fair, open and transparent election without unnecessary burdens.
REP. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON