Protecting Democracy in the 2019 Texas Legislative Session

Act Now!

SB 9 (the voter suppression and intimidation bill) was fast-tracked through the Senate as a priority of Lieutenant Governor Patrick. The real fight starts now in the House. Use our call script to show your opposition to this blatant attack on democracy!

Get the Script!

As a result of the your hard work building the 2018 blue wave, we won back the House and state legislative seats around the country — and Republicans responded with voter suppression and late-night power grabs. This session, we’ll need to protect Texas’ democracy from voter suppression, and provide a counternarrative by advocating for voting rights. Obstructionist Republicans in Congress are stalling H.R. 1 (which would protect democracy nationwide), and Texas state officials are up to the same anti-democratic tricks. They saw the power of the 2018 blue wave and the progressive uprising in Texas, so now they’re trying to hold on to their power the only way they can: by suppressing Texans’ right to vote. Texas officials are doing this because they’re scared of our power—so let’s show them just how powerful we are. We’re going to fight these racist attacks on democracy and push for progressive pro-democracy policies that will expand access to the ballot, fight gerrymandering, and build long-term progressive power in Texas.

Fighting voter suppression in Texas

Anti-democracy legislation

It’s likely that there will be more defensive work to protect democracy in Texas. Some anti-democracy legislators have filed bills that are clear attacks on democracy, including:

  • SB 9, our highest priority for this session, contains a number of provisions that would make voting significantly harder including:
    • Put Texans in prison for honest voting mistakes by removing the intent provision for already-criminalized voting errors
    • Increase criminal penalties for voting errors
    • Loosen safeguards that currently exist on voter data privacy to make it easier to purge voters in the future
    • Create impediments to the voter assistance process that would disenfranchise voters who require such assistance, such as people with disabilities
  • SB 974 would effectively kill the small donor matching campaign finance programs that exist for municipalities and preempt local governments from adopting new matching programs. Small donor matching empowers women, low-income people, and communities of color who are too often locked out of the political process.
  • HB 378 would require proof of citizenship during voter registration.
  • HB 154 would intimidate voters by allowing election officers to photograph a voter’s identification materials.
  • SB 966 would restrict the freedom of counties with populations over 100,000 to make needed changes to mobile polling place locations.
  • SB 1568 would create intimidating civil penalties for the nonexistent issue of “organized electoral fraud”.
  • SB 1638 would allow elections officials to target early voting ballots for unnecessary enhanced scrutiny.

These bills are just as ridiculous as they sound, and it’s up to us to make sure they don’t pass. State laws tend to spread across the country, so we have to make sure we nip these nefarious policies in the bud in Texas.

Voter purging by state officials

Attorney General Keith Paxton and Secretary of State David Whitley led a racist attempt to purge thousands of voters from the rolls based on bad data, which has led to multiple lawsuits by civil rights groups.

Attorney General Paxton tweeted a “voter fraud alert” in late January alleging that nearly 100,000 Texans were registered to vote when ineligible, and about 58,000 of them had voted in an election. Secretary of State Whitley then began encouraging counties to investigate people on this list—a clear attempt to intimidate voters, particularly in immigrant communities. Like all attempts to suppress the vote, this voter purge would disproportionately impact communities of color.

Here’s another problem: the list was full of errors. After a wave of bad press, Whitley quickly began backtracking, and Paxton announced that the Attorney General’s office would not be investigating any of those 58,000 Texans for “voter fraud.” But the damage is done—their intentions to suppress voting are clear, and some voters have already been asked to prove their citizenship based on this faulty data. Now we’re fighting to make sure that Whitley isn’t allowed to continue overseeing Texas elections—more on that in a minute.

How we win

State of play

Anti-democracy legislation

Although we were able to slow it down with some grassroots pressure, SB 9 (the voter suppression and intimidation bill) was fast-tracked through the Senate as a priority of Lieutenant Governor Patrick. The real fight starts now in the House.

You can use this call script to show your opposition to this blatant attack on democracy. You can also drop in to your representative’s officeif you have a Democratic representativeto tell them that you oppose SB 9. This week, we’re staying away from making too much noise that would rattle the GOP; there’s a lot of internal infighting about the bill, and if we push hard, they may feel pressure to move the bill along faster.

It is especially important that your House representative hears from you if they are on the House Committee on Elections. Those members are:

  • Rep. Stephanie Klick (Chair)
  • Rep. Philip Cortez (Vice-Chair)
  • Rep. John H. Bucy III
  • Rep. Dustin Burrows 
  • Rep. Briscoe Cain 
  • Rep. Art Fiero 
  • Rep. Celia Israel
  • Rep. Mayes Middleton
  • Rep. Valoree Swanson

SB 9 does not appear on the House Elections Committee agenda for May 6, which means it is not likely to be heard until May 13. That’s great news, because May 22 is the last day a bill can come to the floor for debate and a vote. While this is a victory, we still need to be vigilant. 

Meanwhile, three bad voting rights bills did make it onto the May 6 Elections Committee agenda:

  • SB 966 would restrict the freedom of counties with populations over 100,000 to make needed changes to mobile polling place locations.
  • SB 1568 would create intimidating civil penalties for the nonexistent issue of “organized electoral fraud”.
  • SB 1638 would allow elections officials to target early voting ballots for unnecessary enhanced scrutiny.

SB 9 is still our priority, but if you have the bandwidth to get involved with these bills, here are some actions you can take: 

  • Come to the House Elections Committee hearing on Monday, May 6. If you don’t have time to stay for the whole hearing, you can also drop in and  register your opposition (“dropping a card”) at the same House kiosks where you register to testify.
  • If you’ve got a Republican representative on the House Elections Committee, mobilize your group to give them a call to voice your opposition to these bills.

Secretary of State Whitley

Texas officials pretend to care about the integrity of our elections—but they’re really only concerned about holding onto power by suppressing voting in black and brown communities. That’s why we have to fight for democracy on two fronts: protecting against these racist attacks on voting rights and advocating for progressive democracy policy that will improve access to voting and election security.

The first thing we need to do is let our legislators know we won’t tolerate voter suppression. Governor Abbott appointed David Whitley in December and he has been acting as Secretary of State since then; now that the Texas Legislature is in session, they must confirm his appointment. On February 7, the Senate Committee on Nominations heard arguments to decide whether or not his nomination should move forward; if he’s confirmed, he would be allowed to continue to oversee elections. On Thursday February 28, the Senate Committee on Nominations approved Whitley’s confirmation after weeks of delaying the vote because of concerns about his judgment. Now, his confirmation heads to the full Senate for a vote.

Here’s the good news: all 12 Senate Democrats have come out in opposition to his confirmation, which means that Whitley doesn’t have the ⅔ majority he needs to be confirmed. They have to hold strong - only two Democrats need to change their mind in order for Whitley to have the votes he needs in the Senate. 

What you can do