BoB: Texas Voter Suppression

Voting booth attendants show Tech. Sgt. Virtue voting literature. Eielson Air Force Base. Photo by U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Thibault.

A number of months ago, Steve wrote a piece which was very well received. It concerned the “Bubble of Bullshit”, or BoB, in which some people lived. The idea was that, when people heard variations of the same story from a variety of sources they trusted, and everyone whose opinion they respected echoed the story, that piece of news – no matter how inaccurate or slanted – would become accepted as truth. When enough of these stories were combined, it would create a bubble of information which would insulate people from accepting contrary arguments, no matter how factual those arguments might be.

The lesson I took from his piece was not that there was a new term which could be useful in mocking Trump followers, nor that I was being presented with the underpinnings of the difficulty in providing information to them. It was a warning: this is a common occurrence. Do not let it happen to you.

It’s happened to many people anyway. Case in point: Texas voter suppression.

I’ve been hearing for months about the awful voter suppression in Texas. First, it was Governor Abbott’s refusal to expand mail-in voting, despite demands amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Then there was outrage over the Governor’s decision to limit drop boxes to one per county, and insistence that it was an attempt to quell Democrat votes, particularly in heavily populated – and Democrat leaning – Harris County. The outrage was resurgent with every legal challenge lost or won on the topic. The complaint was magnified with a recent study that demonstrated that Texas was the most difficult and expensive state in which to vote. That story went international, with places like the Guardian echoing it with reactionary headlines such as “Texas is a ‘voter suppression’ state and one of the hardest places to vote. Will it help Trump win?

There’s just one little problem with this narrative: it’s a blatant and easily demonstrated lie.

First, let’s look at what constitutes “voter suppression”. It is, in the case of mail voting, the refusal to modify existing rules to make voting easier in a way that is expected to be beneficial to Democrats. This isn’t suppression.

For decades I have railed against the notion of “everybody should vote”. I don’t want everyone to vote unless they’ve bothered to learn at least the most basic information about the people for whom they’re voting. I want everyone to have fairly easy voting available to them and I want everyone to inform themselves. I believe that’s enough. I don’t want people who fail to know the names of their candidates or any of their policies making the final decisions about their locality, their state, or their country.

I’ve spent four years railing against ignorant populism. I have no desire to facilitate more of it.

In response to concerns about swollen voting centers, early voting was extended out by a week. This has resulted in polling places which are effectively empty for much of the say (save for election workers)… no lines, merely walking in and out. This is a good, albeit not ideal, situation during a pandemic.

Is it as good as mail voting? No. But it also minimizes the chance of mail voting fraud which, while rare, is likely to spike upward during a time when new systems are being put into place. That spike is grossly unlikely to approach anything like the widespread fraud that the Republicans have been trying to suggest (for various reasons which can be presented if requested) but pushing back against that, while at the same time attempting to encourage people to learn about the system, is not a bad thing. The limits have already made it easier for law enforcement to catch one attempted case of fraud in a Carrollton Mayoral race.

So, the other matter of voter suppression: drop boxes. The ballot drop boxes have been limited to one per county, which means that in Harris, millions of people were expected to use only one drop box. That can be made to sound like suppression… until the rest of the facts come to light.

Any person can go into a post office and have their ballot mailed, and as long as the postmark is correct their ballot will be counted. Likewise, they can hand it to their postal carrier… again, provided the postmark date is before the cutoff, it will be counted. Or they can go into any early voting location and hand their ballot to an election officer. Their vote will be counted. The drop box restriction will affect only people who refuse to go inside a building and who wait until the final day before casting their vote. Is that a limit? Absolutely. It’s hardly suppression. There are all sorts of limits on voting already… early voting places have hours of operation; the fact that they’re not open 24/7 isn’t voting suppression, it’s requiring people to take a tiny portion of the responsibility for their participation in the process.

So, what about those polling locations? Part of the study that purported to show the difficulty in voting in Texas referenced how many polling places have been closed. This sounds bad… again, until even a cursory examination of the facts is made.

First, Texas has far more polling places open than most. This is because Texas allows something many states do not: participation in voting by non-government entities. Rather than have all of the voting arranged by a county official, places such as churches (or, in Dallas, the American Airlines Center) commonly volunteer to host voting. The polling places are still monitored and overseen by county officials, but by allowing more participation the result has been more polling locations. This has been affected during COVID-19 because of a reduced number of workers available to man the polls. The raw numbers for the polling locations indicate that it’s still easier (sometimes far easier) to vote in person in Houston than it is in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York or Atlanta.

Let’s look at the data.

Houston: 2,357,199 registered voters. 122 early voting locations. Early voting begins October 13.

Los Angeles: 6,858,459 registered voters. 116 early voting locations. Early voting begins October 24. (Early voting was restricted to only your designated polling place, but that was recently eliminated… following Texas’ lead, which has had that rule in place for more than a decade.)

Chicago: 1,494,199 registered voters. 10 early voting locations. Early voting began September 24, which is weeks earlier than other states… but with far fewer polling locations.

New York (specifically, for ease, the most Democratic borough, the Bronx): 612,163 registered voters. 17 early voting locations. Early voting begins October 24. Early voting is restricted to only a person’s designated polling place.

Atlanta: 1,489,567 registered voters. 49 early voting locations plus bus stops for a mobile voting bus (an excellent innovation which allows for polling places that are showing unexpectedly heavy usage to be provided temporary overflow capacity.) Early voting begins 10/12.

Yes, the number of polling places has dropped in Texas… and in the most populated counties it still has far more, proportionately and in raw numbers, than comparative cities in “blue states”. The place which matches up best is Atlanta, another “red state”.

The story about “voter suppression” in Texas is not simply overblown, it’s patently false. It’s been created to gin up anger against political opponents and to fuel outrage narratives against red state governors. If we really care about bringing the country back together, we need to stop feeding the hatred machines on all sides of every issue. And if we’re going to complain about the Bubble of Bullshit, we need to stop walking into pastures ourselves.

NOTE: This article was fueled in large part by a discussion with my wife, who went down the rabbit hole and started finding numbers from all over the country. Thanks to her!

About the opinions in this article…

Any opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this website or of the other authors/contributors who write for it.

About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.