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Primary election showed the voting problems Texas must solve before Nov. 3

opinion

Editorial Board

Published 8:00 AM EST Mar 6, 2020

This is an editorial: An editorial, like news reporting, is based on objective facts, but shares an opinion. The conclusions and opinions here have been derived by our Editorial Board and are not associated with the news staff.

How long would you wait in line to vote? Can you imagine waiting six to seven hours? And if you waited that long, how big a disruption would it be to your work and home life?

We ask because it happened during Tuesday’s primary election. In Houston, voters who got in line at Texas Southern University, a historically black institution in a neighborhood of color, before the 7 p.m. deadline had to wait for hours to vote — many of them well past midnight, which means they were voting a day late. Some news accounts described the wait as nearly a full work shift.

Imagine it happening to you.

2020 Primaries: Long lines at some voting sites have many Texans waiting in frustration to cast ballots

From the Panhandle to the Rio Grande, many of us take for granted that we’ll be home watching election returns by 7:05 p.m. and expecting a decisive outcome long before midnight. It’s a reasonable, deliverable expectation — for all registered voters in every Texas neighborhood. So why not deliver it?

While the problems at Texas Southern went beyond just not enough reliable, functioning voting machines for the crowd size, that was the main problem. Texas Southern wasn’t the state’s only site with problems, but it may have been the worst.

And who can blame voting rights advocates for suspecting a grand conspiracy to suppress turnout among minority, likely Democratic voters like the ones who voted at Texas Southern?

Nothing like this happened at Hillcrest Church of Christ, the nearest polling place to Abilene Christian University, or at First Christian Church across the street from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls — two universities where white students outnumber black and Hispanic students.

A LEGACY OF SUPPRESSION

What happened at Texas Southern isn’t just a problem for the portion of Harris County where it happened. All Texans have to own it. It’s an additional chapter to our history of voter suppression — a reputation we’ve earned through our overly strict voter ID law, early voting rollbacks, resistance to online and automatic voter registration and vigilante-style efforts to find vote fraud in places it doesn’t exist. It’s no accident that Texas turnout in recent election years has dragged the bottom.

It’s urgent that Texas turn this around.

This is an election year like no other. The nation is bitterly divided, as is the state. The Russian government attacked, influenced and undermined the previous presidential election and its preferred candidate became our president despite losing the popular vote. How can any winner govern effectively under those circumstances? How can the losing side of such a tight contest trust the outcome?

The upshot is that the nation’s collective mistrust in elections is high and Texas must do its part to remedy it. From president to city council to rural drainage district trustee, we sorely need outcomes we can trust.

ARE THERE SOLUTIONS?

That can’t happen as long as we put up impediments to voting by people of historically oppressed and suppressed racial and ethnic origin, immigrant naturalized citizens, or people who just can’t afford to obtain and maintain a driver’s license.

It takes the Legislature to undo the vote-stifling policies enacted by the Legislature. That won’t happen before Nov. 3. But this state has the means to acquire and test enough voting machines ahead of the election to make voting faster, easier and secure.

This admonition shouldn’t be coming from us. It should start at the top of state government and work its way down. If Gov. Greg Abbott can stick his nose in Austin’s homeless problem, surely he can get into Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs’ grill. She should stick her nose into the courthouses of all 254 counties to make sure every locale has the equipment, staff and training it needs to conduct a smooth, reliable, believable general election.

BARRIERS TO THE BALLOT BOX:

How organizations, lawsuits are fighting voter suppression in Texas

How Texas became ‘ground zero’ for gerrymandering, voter suppression

Countywide voting system for 2020 Texas elections could increase access to polls

Harnessing the power of Latino voters could reshape politics in Texas

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