Next week, the U.S. Census Bureau will start releasing data from the 2020 census, kind of like a starting pistol for a race to begin the redistricting process. In states with Republican control that means a race to gerrymander as many seats as they can get away with. Any state with more than one congressional district can be effected but states gaining (or losing) seats are the most likely to draw out-of-control partisan boundaries. Texas, Florida, Arizona, Montana and North Carolina are among those certain to gain seats and the states most likely to lose seats are Michigan, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. Republicans in Texas, Florida, Arizona, Montana, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio have already been informally working on plans to increase the number of red districts.
But gerrymandering isn't the only way Republicans-- who can't win on policy persuasion-- hope to pick up seats. Republicans across the Old Confederacy are working overtime to disenfranchise minority voters again. This morning, a NY Times piece by Nick Corasaniti, Texas Republicans Targeting Voting Access Find Their Bull’s-Eye: Cities, explores a new GOP dirty trick, not just on winning House seats but on frustrating the political hopes of growing minority populations. "Twenty-four-hour voting was one of a host of options Harris County introduced to help residents cast ballots, along with drive-through voting and proactively mailing out ballot applications," wrote Corasaniti. "The new alternatives, tailored to a diverse work force struggling amid a pandemic in Texas’ largest county, helped increase turnout by nearly 10 percent compared with 2016; nearly 70 percent of registered voters cast ballots, and a task force found that there was no evidence of any fraud.
Yet Republicans are pushing measures through the State Legislature that would take aim at the very process that produced such a large turnout. Two omnibus bills, including one that the House is likely to take up in the coming week, are seeking to roll back virtually every expansion the county put in place for 2020.
The bills would make Texas one of the hardest states in the country to cast a ballot in. And they are a prime example of a Republican-led effort to roll back voting access in Democrat-rich cities and populous regions like Atlanta and Arizona’s Maricopa County, while having far less of an impact on voting in rural areas that tend to lean Republican.
Bills in several states are, in effect, creating a two-pronged approach to urban and rural areas that raises questions about the disparate treatment of cities and the large number of voters of color who live in them and is helping fuel opposition from corporations that are based in or have work forces in those places.
In Texas, Republicans have taken the rare tack of outlining restrictions that would apply only to counties with population of more than one million, targeting the booming and increasingly diverse metropolitan areas of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Dallas.
The Republican focus on diverse urban areas, voting activists say, evokes the state’s history of racially discriminatory voting laws-- including poll taxes and “white primary” laws during the Jim Crow era-- that essentially excluded Black voters from the electoral process.
Most of Harris County’s early voters were white, according to a study by the Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit group. But the majority of those who used drive-through or 24-hour voting-- the early voting methods the Republican bills would prohibit-- were people of color, the group found.
“It’s clear they are trying to make it harder for people to vote who face everyday circumstances, especially things like poverty and other situations,” said Chris Hollins, a Democrat and the former interim clerk of Harris County, who oversaw and implemented many of the policies during the November election. “With 24-hour voting, there wasn’t even claims or a legal challenge during the election.”
The effort to further restrict voting in Texas is taking place against the backdrop of an increasingly tense showdown between legislators and Texas-based corporations, with Republicans in the House proposing financial retribution for companies that have spoken out.
American Airlines and Dell Technologies both voiced strong opposition to the bill, and AT&T issued a statement supporting “voting laws that make it easier for more Americans to vote,” though it did not specifically mention Texas.
American Airlines also dispatched Jack McCain, the son of former Senator John McCain, to lobby Republicans in Austin to roll back some of the more stringent restrictions.
Republicans in the State Legislature appear unbowed. In amendments filed to the state budget this week, House Republicans proposed that “an entity that publicly threatened any adverse reaction” related to “election integrity” would not be eligible for some state funds.
While those amendments will need to be voted on, and may not even rise to the floor for a vote, placing them on the record is seen by lobbyists and operatives in Austin as a thinly veiled warning to businesses to stay quiet on the voting bills.
The Perryman Group, an economic research and analysis firm based in Waco, said in a recent study that implementing controversial voting measures could lead to conferences or events being pulled from the state, and prompt businesses or workers to shun it. The group estimated that restrictive new laws would lead to a huge decrease in business activity in the state by 2025 and cost tens of thousands of jobs.
Among the restrictions in two omnibus bills in the Texas Legislature are a ban on 24-hour voting, a ban on drive-through voting and harsh criminal penalties for local election officials who provide assistance to voters. There are also new limits on voting machine distribution that could lead to a reduction in numbers of precincts and a ban on encouraging absentee voting.
The bills also include a measure that would make it much more difficult to remove a poll watcher for improper conduct. Partisan poll watchers, who are trained and authorized to observe the election on behalf of a candidate or party, have occasionally crossed the line into voter intimidation or other types of misbehavior; Harris County elections officials said they had received several complaints about Republican poll watchers last year.
Mr. Hollins, the former Harris County clerk, said Republicans recognized that “Black and brown and poor and young people’’ use the flexible voting options more than others. “They’re scared of that,” he said.
While Republican-controlled legislatures in Georgia and Arizona are passing new voting laws after Democratic victories in November, Texas is pushing new restrictions despite having backed former President Donald J. Trump by more than 600,000 votes. The effort reflects the dual realities confronting Republicans in the State Legislature: a base eager for changes to voting following Mr. Trump’s 2020 loss and a booming population that is growing more diverse.