Texas has a long history of voter suppression deeply intertwined with white supremacy.
From white-only primaries to poll taxes, lawmakers throughout the South used a variety of tactics to keep Black and Latinx communities from voting after the Civil War. In response, the U.S. enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — at the behest of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights advocates.
Under the Voting Rights Act and due to Texas’ history of racist voting laws, the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court had to review any new map or election law before it could go into effect under what was known as “preclearance.” In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ended that federal oversight. Ever since, Texas politicians have ramped up their efforts to roll back access to the ballot box.
Below are five obstacles that you should know about when casting your vote in 2022. While it’s infuriating that Texas leaders are trying so hard to undo King’s vision for a democracy that works for all, these challenges shouldn’t discourage you from voting.
It’s now more important than ever to make your voice heard.
1. Texas does not offer online voter registration.
While nearly all states allow voters to register online and many states allow voters to register on Election Day, Texas requires voters to register 30 days before Election Day and the application must be mailed or handed in. The only exception to this policy is when you are renewing your driver’s license online you may also register to vote at the same time.
2. Texas severely limits who can vote by mail.
Many states allow anyone to vote by mail and some automatically send vote-by-mail applications to every voter. Texas only allows voting by mail for those who are 65 years or older, have a disability or an illness, are incarcerated, will be outside their county, or who are expected to give birth within three weeks of election day.
During the 2020 election, Texas refused to allow voting by mail despite concerns about exposure to COVID-19. By contrast, Harris County made voting more accessible by sending vote-by-mail applications to all registered voters. The Texas Legislature in turn passed new provisions in Senate Bill 1 that ban local officials from providing vote-by-mail applications that have not been requested.
S.B. 1 adds more requirements to the vote-by-mail process, making it especially difficult for voters with disabilities or voters who speak limited English. Now, a mail-in ballot can be rejected for small errors like an incorrectly copied driver’s license number — or an incorrectly copied Social Security number for those without another form of ID — on the voter’s application and ballot. If you are applying to vote by mail, be sure to write down which form of identification you use and ensure you use the same form of ID on your ballot.
3. Texas makes lines longer at polling places.
Texans know that their vote equals their voice and often show up in large numbers. Unfortunately, when Texans vote in person, they often face long lines during high-turnout elections, especially in neighborhoods with more people of color. Texas has one of the strictest voter ID requirements in the country, even though people of color and people with disabilities are more likely to lack access to an acceptable form of ID. County-led efforts to make in-person voting more accessible, such as 24-hour voting to accommodate long work schedules, are now prohibited by S.B. 1.
4. Texas restricts assistance for voters with disabilities and voters who speak limited English.
The federal Voting Rights Act entitles voters with disabilities and voters who speak languages other than English to have assistance while voting. But S.B. 1 illegally limits a voter’s assistant to only reading and marking a ballot, and prohibits other assistance like answering a voter’s clarifying question or helping a voter with a disability navigate a polling site.
5. Texas imposes increased criminal penalties.
Texas threatens voters with criminal penalties for potential errors and appears to disproportionately prosecute women of color. The Texas attorney general has prosecuted voters for misunderstandings about election law. The Texas Legislature has added civil and criminal penalties for many of the additional voting requirements in SB 1. If you have any questions about voter assistance or eligibility, call 866-OUR-VOTE or check with your local election officials.
We must honor King’s legacy by making our voices heard at the ballot box and by advocating for laws that make voting more accessible — especially for voters of color, voters with limited resources, and voters with disabilities in Texas.
Be sure to create a plan to vote and know what’s on your ballot.
To vote in the March 1, 2022 primary election, update your voter registration by January 31 and, if you are eligible, make sure your application to vote by mail is received by February 18. Make a plan to vote and call the election protection hotline with any questions: 866-OUR-VOTE or 866-687-8683.