The unspoken reason for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest voter suppression move

The unspoken reason for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest voter suppression move
By World Travel & Tourism Council - Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, CC BY 2.0,

In Texas — a state that has been synonymous with voter suppression — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has found a new way to make it more difficult to vote. Abbott has ordered all Texas counties to have no more than one location for dropping off absentee ballots. Considering how sprawling Texas is, Abbott's move obviously isn't designed to make voting easier.

And although Abbott and other Texas Republicans would never admit it publicly, it isn't hard to figure out the motivation behind Abbott's latest voter suppression move: an effort to make sure that former Vice President Joe Biden doesn't win the state's 38 electoral votes.

During the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, one thing Texas Republicans didn't have to worry about was Democrats winning the state in a presidential election. The last Democratic presidential nominee to win Texas was Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976. But 2020's presidential election has been surprisingly close in Texas, where according to polls released in September, Biden was trailing Trump by 3% (University of Massachusetts, Lowell), 1% (Data for Progress), 3% (Siena College/New York Times), 2% (YouGov), 1% (Public Policy Polling) or 5% (Quinnipiac). A Morning Consult poll released in September found Biden and Trump tied in Texas, and a Tyson Group poll found Biden ahead by 4% in the Lone Star State.

The Tyson poll was a bit of an outlier, but overall, the evidence shows that Texas is in play for Biden — and that if Trump ultimately wins the state in November, it won't be by much. Abbott is no doubt well aware of those polls, and limiting the number of places where one can drop off absentee ballots is an obvious effort to make voting in Texas more difficult for Democratic voters. And it is no coincidence that the number of drop-off locations being reduced just happens to be in some of the more Democrat-friendly counties in Texas.

Harris County, which includes the Democratic stronghold of Houston, must reduce its number of drop-off locations for absentee ballots from 12 to one. And Travis County, which includes Austin — another blue city in a light red state — will go from having four drop-off locations to only having one.

Coincidence? Obviously not. Harris County and Travis County just happen to be two of the Texas counties in which Biden and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate M.J. Hegar — who is challenging Republican Sen. John Cornyn and has been trailing him only by single digits in many polls — are likely to receive the most votes.

Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, is highly critical of Abbott's move, calling it a "blatant voter suppression tactic." And the group Let America Vote, in an official statement, said, "The governor is making it harder for people to vote in the middle of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 16,000 Texans. It is a shameful, blatant act of voter suppression that will disproportionately impact the large number of Black and (Latino) voters in Texas' biggest counties."

It's important to stress that Texas can be very Democratic at the local level. Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso lean Democrat; a heavy turnout in an abundance of rural counties in Central Texas and North Texas is what gives Republicans an advantage in statewide races in the Lone Star State. But the evidence indicates that the GOP's advantage in Texas is shrinking.

In 2018's U.S. Senate race in Texas, Democrat Beto O'Rourke lost to incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz by only 2% — which is a big change from all the double-digit wins that Republicans enjoyed in so many statewide races in Texas in the 1990 and 2000s. Republicans hoped that O'Rourke's performance in 2018 was a fluke, but polls of the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Texas in 2020 indicate that it was not.

Demographics are another potential problem for Texas Republicans. The Lone Star State, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is only 41% non-Hispanic white. But non-Latino whites still dominate the electorate in Texas, which — O'Rourke has been stressing to Biden's campaign — is getting better for Democrats.

The harder Republicans have to work in statewide races in Texas, the worse it will be for the GOP. Abbott and many others in the GOP obviously know that, and by making it harder for Texans to vote in Democratic counties, he is, in effect, acknowledging a Republican worry — that Texas is in play for former Vice President Joe Biden.

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