Civil rights groups are accusing Texas Republicans of using their positions to make voting as hard as possible — particularly for Democratic-leaning voters.
According to these groups, Republican state leaders have vigorously pursued voter suppression techniques aimed at discouraging minority and young voters from showing up to the polls. The GOP-controlled legislature has gerrymandered district lines to sterilize the impact of the state’s ever-increasing minority vote, advocated for voter ID rules that courts have repeatedly dismissed as discriminatory, and shot down efforts like online voter registration, which aim to make voting easier.
Texas voter turnout is among the lowest in the country. Just 51.6 percent of Texans voted in 2016, and less than 20 percent voted in the 2014 midterms. A 2017 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic found that black and Hispanic Americans were twice as likely to experience problems at the polls than white voters.
“It’s a panoply of voter suppression,” Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, told the Texas Observer. “Texas has actually gotten very good at it.”
2018’s midterm election in Texas — hosting the senate race between Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke — has become the most expensive and visible contest this year. Even before Tuesday, the election has already been wracked with controversy.
Issues with the nearly-20-year-old eSlate voting machines have been rampant, and some polling locations have not stocked enough paper ballots to account for the technical problems. Texas’ Republican secretary of state refused to audit the machines, even after people reported that their ballot choices had changed from Beto O’Rourke to Ted Cruz.
All day Tuesday, voters tweeted their experiences with voting difficulties, ranging from poll workers telling them they weren’t registered when they were, counties registering voters at the wrong precincts, and a severe shortage of voting machines in some counties experiencing high turnout.
Harris County, where about 1/7 Texas ballots were cast in '16, has already today seen:
—technical issues w/voting machines
—lines wrapping around buildings b/c machines are down
—unconfirmed reports that a polling place hadn't opened by 8:30 a.m. #txlege https://t.co/A5i5fmrvGG
— Jasper Scherer (@jaspscherer) November 6, 2018
This is the line at my polling station AFTER everyone left because
1. The (one) electronic voting machine isn’t working and
2. There are not enough paper ballots.
It is #ElectionDay and entire precincts including mine cannot vote. #Election2018 pic.twitter.com/lT6BhTVfJV
— Khadija M. Farah (@kmfarah) November 6, 2018
An Arlington, Texas voting location didn't have enough paper ballots: A voter tells CNN that the electronic voting machines were not working and she was told they did not have any ballots. "Once that info was shared, most of the people in line decided to leave."
— MJ Lee (@mj_lee) November 6, 2018
Texas GOP officials were also sued twice in the lead-up to Election Day for limiting early voting hours in parts of town containing a higher concentration of black voters. In a polling location where a high percentage of Korean Americans cast their votes, interpreters were kept from offering their services to help Korean-speaking voters while waiting in line.
Beto supporters are particularly looking at the results of Tarrant County, the 3rd largest county in Texas, which O’Rourke has hinged the success of his entire campaign. Heider Garcia, the man in charge of elections in Tarrant County, was accused of election fraud after Smartmatic Voting Machines — the company he worked for at the time — caused problems during a 2010 election in the Philippines.
Tarrant county, Texas – keep an eye on Heider Garcia who is in charge of elections. He was a computer expert and official for Smartmatic Voting Machines which was charged with voter fraud in the Philippines. All eyes on him to make sure the elections are correct & not changed.
— Beverly Hill (@HillBeverlyhill) November 6, 2018
Some Texas voters have also been registered in incorrect jurisdictions.
👉On my way to cast a provisional ballot b/c TX SoS registered me in Tarrant County instead of Dallas County. Carrying with me proof of voter suppression letter received👇. Texas votes: If you run into a problem when voting, let WFAA know https://t.co/G3mMdNfAqD via @wfaa
— Mary (@mryfrtsn) November 6, 2018
Despite these obstacles, early voter turnout in Texas has spiked. Over four and a half million ballots were cast before Election Day in the 30 most populous Texas counties, meaning nearly 40 percent of registered voters had already cast their votes before Election Day.
Nathan Wellman is a Grit Post contributing editor in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @LIGHTNINGWOW. You can also email him at info AT gritpost DOT com.