Across the enormous state of Texas on Tuesday, voters encountered a wide range of problems at the polls—some stemming from the last-minute implementation of a strict voter ID law, and some based more on misinformation, intimidation and confusion.
The number of provisional ballots cast more than doubled since the last mid-term election in 2010—from 7,947 to 16,408, at the most recent count. It is not yet known how much of an influence the voter ID law had on this massive increase. Officials and volunteers have reported fewer called-in problems with IDs than expected, but the number of those without ID who did not attempt to vote, or who were turned away without a provisional ballot remains unknown.
Confusion, intimidation and chaos ruled on Election Day. A federal judge has ruled that Texas has no voter education program in place. Of course it doesn't.
Pierce claimed the state ran a “comprehensive” education campaign around the law. But the state legislature allocated no funds for it. The state even suspended the entire free ID program even as it was pushing to reinstate the law in court.
The Texas GOP relies on lack of information and misinformation to keep as many folks away from the polls as possible. Its goal: make it easy for Republicans to vote. And the GOP has a highly sophisticated GOTV operation,
as we should all know by now.
The contrast is clear. The GOP knows how to get its folks to the polls while its laws make it tough if not impossible for poor and brown Democrats to vote.
Attorney Adam Laughton manned the Election Protection hotline in Houston, which received about 400 calls yesterday. Early in the morning, calls poured in about polling locations opening later than their 7 a.m. posted time—some as late as 8:30 a.m.—causing difficulties for voters who had counted on being able to vote on their way to work. And when those centers did finally open, several had malfunctioning machines.
As a volunteer for the Harris County (Houston area) Democratic Party on Election Day, I answered the phones and submitted several Incident Reports for voters who had difficulty voting. We had a team of lawyers available to look into cases of potential disenfranchisement. An organizer I worked with at Battleground TX told me that she could not find voters who had said they voted in the state's Voter Activation Network. The organizer submitted these incidences to BGTX lawyers.
A poll observer at the Fiesta polling place location who did not give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media told ThinkProgress he personally witnessed many voters give up and leave without casting a ballot. “The booths weren’t ready to go [when the polls opened],” he said. “People were discouraged. I saw several, several people leave and complain out loud about how it was running inefficiently, and saying, ‘If I don’t vote now, I can’t vote.’”
Another factor slowing down the Fiesta site was the lack of a computer. To verify the address of each voter, a clerk had to call the county office and ask them to look it up there. As the day went on, the poll observer saw many like Blakely who were purged from the rolls, and others who had had their polling place reassigned. “A majority if not a plurality of people weren’t in our book, including a lot of people who said they’ve been voting here forever,” he said. “Though a provisional ballot should be offered to every single person if they can’t vote, and that was not happening.”
It should be clear to all that the Republican Party has to depend upon a small electorate as a path to victory.
Pretty sick, huh? But despite the craven and despicable acts of the GOP to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters, Texas Democrats have to take a long and hard look in the mirror.
Why did women who lost access to abortion and reproductive counseling and health care not bother to vote? Why did those who had the proper ID stay home? Why weren't they motivated, if only by to make a stink on behalf of those who could not vote? Why did recent college graduates with tens of thousands of dollars of debt hanging over their heads opt out?
So, where do we go from here?
Do our candidates need to be more bold and stand by our progressive values? Absolutely. In red states Democratic candidates tend to play it too safe. When they do this they depress the base. We file them away as R lite. R lite does not bring us out in droves to the polls, to say the least. And as we learned the hard way this year, our base does not like to be taken for granted.
How can we reach out to voters?
I thought we had done this over the past year through the efforts of Battleground Texas. We registered voters, made calls and knocked on doors.
But in the end we came up short.
For our election coalition splintered in Harris Co.
The Democratic local turnout operation this fall was run primarily by a series of allied groups rather than solely by the party, and that hodgepodge of Harris County Democratic groups began to unravel on Wednesday. Groups looked to explain how they failed to elect the Democratic ticket after unprecedented efforts by Battleground and Texas Organizing Project, both of which worked to bring new voters who would make Texas more politically competitive but only turned out a third of registered voters this midterm election. Some local Democrats were charging that Battleground ignored the base and did not begin hitting the phones to encourage Harris County voters to turn out until after that Sunday night meeting. The get-out-the-vote efforts of Battleground and Texas Organizing Project focused on door-knocks rather than phone calls, though Battleground says it did make calls ahead of early voting.
"It was a very competitive race up until three weeks ago," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, "Battleground and TOP certainly promote themselves as turn-out-the-vote operations, and I think by anyone's measurement, it fell short."
Whatever. Now we should know what worked and what didn't. Perhaps all parties involved (the county party, BGTX and TOP) should agree to sit down and discuss who will be doing what during the next election. We have a mayor's race next year and of course the Presidential election of 2016. BGTX might consider being a better team player with the county parties and stop boasting about its results publicly, especially if some of them are inflated. The GOP kept its GOTV effort under the radar. It didn't boast.
That said, BGTX has a sophisticated field organization and we have to keep at it, precinct by precinct, district by district. Neighbor to neighbor. Quietly.
On Thursday I attended a brown bag lunch meeting at the Harris Co. Democratic Party headquarters. Two consultants presented a jam packed room filled with candidates, party leaders and activists with the grim news.
In short, Democrats got our butts kicked in Harris Co.
There is no amount of lipstick, French perfume and earrings from Neiman Marcus that can make this pig look pretty.
Did we spend too much time wooing persuadable voters while we ignored our base?
The consultant held up sheets of paper that included the names of 20,000 reliable Harris D voters who did not vote in 2014. He suggested we call them and ask why they didn't vote.
One prominent African American woman stood up and expressed her frustration, well, outrage really, over how Wendy Davis and our national candidates ran away from Obama. According to her:
We love Obama and we don’t vote when we are not asked. We don’t vote when you don’t talk to us about things that are important to our community.
An African American man expressed his disgust at Wendy Davis for refusing to admit she voted for the President. He believes she should have stood up and brag that she is proud to have voted for Obama.
This is unfair, really, because although Wendy Davis did not admit to voting for the President at a debate, she did later say she would love for Mr. Obama to campaign with her.
But not everyone heard the message, unfortunately.
Another member believes Battleground TX failed to produce a flush vote, i.e. knocking on every door in African American communities to get out the vote.
According to some of our members, our party sent too few mailers to remind Democrats to vote. The GOP, on the other hand, bombarded homes with mailers, all of which depicted President Obama in a very negative frame. It was as if they screamed, run to the polls and vote against that black man otherwise you will die and go straight to hell!
What else can we expect from a Party that has been playing the race and hate card for decades? It is called Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy. Karl Rove perfected it.
The Texas Republican Party may have more money but we have more members. So there is no excuse, really, for the Democrat's failure to turn out the vote.
Give us candidates that will stand for something we believe in and will fight for.
To my fellow BGTX neighborhood team leaders and county party activists, Joan, Elyse, Barbara, Susan, Linda (thank you for the wonderful casseroles) Michael, Silvia, Tom, Annette (who brought us homemade Cesar salads so we would stop eating junk food), Tracy, and to my dear friend Betty who banged herself up pretty badly when she tripped on an overgrown oak tree root while canvassing, let's keep doing what we do best. Annette would burn up the battery on her cell phone, making calls, after she made sure we had something healthy to eat.
When I called Betty to make sure she was OK after her fall, her response.
I got into a fight with a Republican and I beat him up pretty hard.
That's the spirit from a native born Texan from a farm not far from Abilene, a retired school teacher and former attorney.
And thank you to Elora who gave me $25.00 to buy food for our canvassers because she did not have the time to call or canvass thanks to professional and family responsibilities.
And to my other fellow neighborhood team leaders in other parts of Houston, Mary, Vicki, Gail, Jason and Kristi, you rock. You know who you are.
And let's give a well-deserved round of applause to our BGTX organizers: Sam from Long Island, NY; Brendan from Bridgeport, CT; Rachel from Pearland, TX; Janelle from southern IN; Heather from Boston, MA; Angelica from Dallas, TX. These recent college grads took themselves out of the job market or the grad school application process in order to to help Texas become a more competitive state.
Some of them fell in love with Houston. Three are looking for jobs here. Houston is very lucky.
And to the Harris Co. Democratic Party I would like to take a deep bow to its political director Chris and his team of fellows, interns and volunteers, most of whom fit into the same category as BGTX organizers. Your mail in ballot for seniors program did work. We are neck in neck with the Harris Co. GOP on that front.
Ben, Levi, Jonathan, Nicole and so many others. I miss seeing you at the HCDP headquarters when I volunteer there on Monday afternoons.
Together we all strived to make Texas a better place. And we will continue to strive for it is only a matter of time before Texas becomes a purple and far more compassionate state.
Oh wait. This is uncanny. I just now received this email, literally seconds ago, from my next door neighbor, a Republican. She has three grandchildren in the Houston public school system. I am not making this up.
We have never known anyone who worked as hard as you did for an election. you should be commended. most of us don't have that big of a commitment. hats off to you
We do make a difference. Let's move on and get back to work.
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