As Americans, we are given an opportunity to have our voice heard by voting. In Texas, the Governor and his Republican colleagues are trying to suppress that right to certain voters; primarily voters of color who tend to lean Democratic. On September 7, 2021, Senate Bill 1 was signed into law. This bill is a sweeping, 47-page renovation of Texas voting and election laws that grew by more than 14 pages thanks to Republican backed amendments. Texas has been criticized for the passage of Senate Bill 1, and has made it harder to vote than any other state.
new changes ahead...
Below you will find a summary of the changes that will go into effect before the 2022 primary elections. One of the most talked about laws is the Voter ID. This law has made national headlines as it discriminates against voters of color. Let’s take a closer look at what these changes mean and how they can potentially affect us.
Drive-thru Voting Ban
This method was slashed. This was used as a safety precaution in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Several counties used this method. Drive-thru voting was held under large tents and an ID was required before casting a vote. This method was a success in Harris County. 53% of voters in Harris County used the new method and were racial and ethnic minorities. Some of these locations were open for 24 hours. Republicans did not agree with this and claimed that poll watchers were not available to monitor. This method showed some popularity among voters.
New Regulations for Early Voting Hours
This new regulation extends the early voting hours from 6am-10pm. The bill also adds an extra hour of required early voting hours for local elections, moving it from eight hours to nine. Sunday voting hours increased and the new window will be from 9am-10pm.
Distribution of Mail-in Ballot Applications Ban
It will become a state jail felony for local election officials to send unsolicited applications to request a mail-in ballot. That same punishment applies to officials who approve the use of public funds “to facilitate” the unsolicited distribution of applications by third-parties, which would keep counties from providing applications to local groups helping get out the vote.
Mail-in Voting Correction Process
The bill creates a new process allowing voters to correct their mail-in ballots if they are at risk of being rejected for a technical error. Voters could make those corrections online through a new online ballot tracker that was previously approved by the Legislature.
Voting by Mail New ID Requirements
Voters must provide their driver’s license number or, if they don’t have one, the last four digits of their Social Security number on applications for those ballots. They must also provide those numbers on the envelope used to return their completed ballot. Currently, the state uses a signature matching process to verify completed ballots. Voters may use an expired license or state-issued ID card that is "otherwise valid."
Creating New Rules for Voter Assistance
This new rule could affect our elderly minority voters. If you are assisting a voter, you will now have to recite an expanded oath, now under the penalty of perjury, stating they did not “pressure or coerce” the voter into choosing them for assistance. If you are assisting, you must fill out new paperwork disclosing your relationship to the voter, including voters with disabilities.
Monthly Citizenship Checks
In 2019, the State was sued multiple times as it targeted naturalized citizens who were classified as “possible non-U.S citizens." The bill will require the Texas secretary of state’s office to compare the massive statewide voter registration list with data from the Department of Public Safety to pinpoint individuals who told the department they were not citizens while obtaining or renewing their driver’s license or ID card after registering to vote. Under SB 1, the state will have to rework it's methodology in order to settle pending litigations.
Poll Watcher Protections
The bill states that watchers must be allowed to observe, without obstruction, election activity inside polling places and vote-counting centers so they may call attention to "any observed or suspected irregularity or violation of law." This will allow them to move freely at a site. Poll watchers have a record of intimidating voters of color. The secretary of state's office will create an online course that all watchers must complete.
According to The Texas Secretary of State’s office, they were “happy to report that Texas Elections are in good shape” and that “[t]he Elections in Texas last year were a success... Texas had an election that was smooth and secure.” Many question why a slew of new rules were put into place when the election "was smooth and secure."
United States Justice Department vs. Texas
The United States Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against the state. The lawsuit claims that two provisions violate the federal Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.“There is a history of discrimination against voters with disabilities in Texas," the lawsuit claims, noting estimates that 28% of Texans have conditions impairing their mobility, cognition or vision.” One places strict limits on how much assistance can be given to voters who, because of disabilities or limited English proficiency, may need help navigating the voting process. The second places new constraints on how people who vote by mail verify their identities.
On July 29, 2021 Governor Abbot issued Executive Order GA-38. This executive order states, “No governmental entity, including a county, city, school district, and public health authority, and no governmental official may require any person to wear a face covering or to mandate that another person wear a face covering.” It further states that, “the imposition of any such face-covering requirement by a local governmental entity or official constitutes a “failure to comply with” this executive order that is subject to a fine up to $1,000.” Governor Abbott has caused a firestorm within the state with this order. Elementary age students currently do not have access to the vaccine and with the new school year in session, the positivity rate has skyrocketed in children’s cases.
The new COVID-19 Delta variant is raging through the US and school districts were put to the test once again on how to keep their doors open and keep students and staff safe. Student cases have risen within the first couple of weeks of school, and hospitals continue to see influx of patients. Intensive Care beds are once again becoming scarce. The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine has helped ease some folks, but the drawback to this is the current vaccines available are only approved for the age groups of 12 and up. When school started last year, school districts were allowed to require masks and a virtual school option with no fine or threat of losing state funding. The Governor and the Attorney General have threatened to sue those districts who implement a mask mandate. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) had recently stated that they would not issue public guidance on this, but retracted when new guidance was issued on September 17, 2021 to align with GA-38. This alignment does not help protect our students, staff or community at-large. School districts should be entitled to local control especially when their area is facing a high number of confirmed cases and hospitalizations. Health experts believe that universal masking is a significant approach to curb the spread amongst unvaccinated individuals.
Urgency: To defy or not to defy?
The Governor of Texas has placed a huge burden on school districts as they strive to keep their students and staff safe. This order has caused a shortage in teachers, substitute teachers and bus drivers, causing a strain on district operations. Several school districts have defied the Governor’s Executive Order creating a fight between the State of Texas, parents and school districts.
The big urban area school districts have led the charge in defying the Governor’s Executive order. Houston, Dallas, and Ft. Worth sued the Governor over the order. Elgin ISD, located in Central Texas, has also joined the fight and is one of the many school districts that has been sued for implementing a mask mandate. Jodi Duron, Elgin ISD Superintendent, stated, “The reason we felt it was necessary to mandate masks, in a nutshell: Because, kids.”
The Attorney General has created and published a list on their website displaying the school districts that are non compliant. A total of 15 school districts have been sued and are pushing back. Some districts did not even have a mask mandate and were sued anyway. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) isn't even enforcing the executive order.
This issue has caused outrage for school district board members. School Board members are facing heated arguments and threats from parents and community members. At school board meetings, parents are getting arrested and meetings are being cut short due to disruptions. While everyone is getting questioned for their stance, one Central Texas school board president resigned and walked out of the board meeting because he did not agree with the school district implementing and keeping the mask mandate and questioned the ethics of the other board members.
Help on the Horizon?
On September 21st, the U.S. The Department of Education opened up an investigation on the Governor's Executive Order. The Office of Civil Rights will investigate whether or not this order is violating federal law that prevents disabled students from returning to in-person classes. The letter sent to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) states, "OCR is concerned that Texas’s restriction on schools and school districts from putting masking requirements in place may be preventing schools in Texas from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19," The Education Department also opened up similar investigations in other Republican lead states.
This announcement has many applauding the federal government.