Urge Texas elected officials to oppose restrictions on voting rights

In 2020, eligible Texans cast a record number of ballots for the state– over 11 million votes. Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the most restrictive voting laws in the country, Texans turned out to vote at the highest rates seen in nearly three decades. Now, some elected officials want to roll back this progress by making it even harder to vote. The right to vote is fundamental and sacred– the time to act is now. 

Urge Texas elected officials to oppose restrictions on our freedom to vote.

Background:

Texas has a long history of restrictive voting laws. The entire state was originally covered under the preclearance formula of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This meant Texas's history of voter suppression, particularly against racial minorities, crossed a threshold such that the state could not change its voting laws without approval from the Department of Justice. However, that all changed in 2013 when the Supre Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, ruled the preclearance formula unconstitutional.

Since 2013, Texas has made drastic changes to the way it conducts its elections. Chief among these changes has been the imposition of harsh voter I.D. laws. These laws pose a challenge for all but are particularly harmful to poor voters and Voters of Color who are far more likely than their wealthier or white counterparts to not possess an adequate I.D. Changes have also included restrictions on early voting and mass closures of polling places. In fact, Texas has closed over 750 polling locations, many of them in counties with large minority populations, leading to longer wait times to vote.  

Despite these tremendous challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic, Texans turned out in record numbers for the 2020 election. Now some elected officials are trying to restrict the right to vote even further.

The Texas Senate and House passed omnibus legislation that would impose a flood of new restrictions on Texans' freedom to vote. The bills passed by the two chambers are different in significant ways. Therefore a conference committee was formed to combine the bills into a single law. Now, this final version of the bill awaits passage during the special session of the Texas State legislature. We are concerned that the final version of this bill would: 

  1. Restrict our freedom to vote by “aiming a cannon at a flea” – overreaching solutions in search of a problem. 
  2. Financially burden local governments, and logistically burden counties with an overly broad restriction on distributing vote by mail applications 
  3. Discourage poll workers with threats of increased criminal penalties 
  4. Elevate partisan poll-watcher power above election official authority, leading to potential chaos and voter intimidation 
  5. Ban drive-through and outdoor voting, which have proved both popular and reliable, and would disproportionately affect Black and Latino voters 
  6. Restrict voters from dropping off completed absentee ballots 
  7. Shrink early voting periods, which hurts workers who work long hours
  8. Create new burdens for voters with disabilities who want to vote by mail, by requiring an affidavit of disability
  9. Increase burdens on voters with disabilities to access assistance at the polls 
  10. Impose an impractical uniformity standard throughout the state, such that e.g. Loving County (approximately 120 registered voters) and Tarrant County (approximately 1.1M registered voters) have to run their elections the same way 

We oppose this omnibus anti-voter legislation and other bills that threaten to disenfranchise Texas voters. The government should work to protect our freedom to vote, not put barriers in our way. 

Join us in urging Texas legislators to oppose omnibus legislation that erects deliberate barriers to Texans' freedom to vote. 

Jewish Values

Jewish tradition teaches us that the selection of leaders is not a privilege but a collective responsibility. Rabbi Yitzchak taught that “a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 55a). In keeping with the insight of this teaching, it is the duty of all who cherish democracy to ensure that all eligible citizens are afforded the opportunity to vote and have their votes counted. The Reform Jewish Movement, long believing that the right to vote is fundamental to American democracy, strongly supports legislation that protects the rights of all citizens to exercise the right to vote & opposes legislation that would encumber that right. 

For more information about this issue, contact RAC-TX Lead Organizer Rabbi David Segal at dsegal@rac.org

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