This country has a long and complicated history with voting rights. Though universal suffrage was granted in 1920, it took years of organizing to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and finally secure unencumbered access to polling places. Now, nearly five decades later, politicians in Texas have been systematically chipping away at those protections — through voter ID laws, overreaching registration regulations, and other hurdles designed to drive down the number of people who are able to make their voices heard at the ballot box. In fact, Texas is the next great battleground for voters’ rights. Texas’ voter ID law was one of the most publicized voting restrictions of 2014 — in part because of the drama surrounding a last-minute Supreme Court decision to keep the law in effect only days before voting started in the 2014 gubernatorial election. Ruled to be “intentionally discriminatory” and likened to a poll tax by Fifth Circuit Court Judge Nelva Ramos, the law does more than require identification in order to vote: it limits the acceptable forms of voter identification to a select few – a concealed handgun license is acceptable, for instance, while a Social Security card is not. As a result, last November, about 600,000 registered Texas voters – a group that was disproportionately African-American, Latino, young and elderly – were at risk of being kept from the polls by this restrictive law.
Lesser known, but still just as important, are the state’s voter registration restrictions. Texas is home to an estimated 3 million unregistered voters. Yet the state boasts some of the strictest regulations governing voter registration in the country. Volunteers must be trained and certified before registering voters, yet there is no state-wide certification. Instead, volunteers must get certified by each individual county before registering its residents. With 254 counties in Texas, it would be virtually impossible to get certified everywhere in the state. Certifications expire every two years, and when and how often trainings are held is up to each individual county.
But perhaps the biggest hurdle to change in Texas is the sense from voters that their voices don’t matter. Texas has some of the lowest voter participation in the country. Redistricting has made local elections across the state so uncompetitive that many races are considered over before Election Day. These restrictions, the voter ID law, and registration hurdles send a strong message from lawmakers to voters: We don’t think your vote should matter. And after more than 20 years of Republican rule – conveniently maintained by keeping many of the most-often disenfranchised voters away from the polls – it’s little wonder voters often feel powerless in the Texas political process.
Full Article: The state of voting in Texas | MSNBC.