As Republicans in the Texas Legislature run roughshod over corporate opposition, public protests and Democratic objections to advance a voting restrictions bill to the brink of passage, State Representative Jessica González, a two-term Democrat from near Dallas, has been at the forefront of the fight.
Ms. González, the vice chair of the House Elections Committee, was the first lawmaker to challenge State Representative Briscoe Cain, the Republican sponsor of the voting bill and the chair of the committee, during the final debate over the bill in the chamber. She previously served as the Nevada voter protection director for former President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.
We spoke to Ms. González about the next steps in Texas and how she views the battle over voting rights writ large. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
OK, quickly: What’s next for the voting legislation in Texas?
So the House version of the “election integrity” bill was vastly different from the Senate version, indicating that both chambers had a different idea of what election integrity will look like. Whether both chambers come together and agree with what the final version looks like, I guess we’ll just wait and see.
Businesses, election officials, faith leaders and Democrats have all opposed the voting restrictions. What else can opponents do to stop the legislation?
Well, we’re still in session, and so fighting against some of these suppression bills hasn’t stopped. And if it goes to a conference committee [a panel of lawmakers who make final changes to legislation], we can be vigilant, and object to the changes made in conference if there are substantial differences, because they will move very quickly.
But I think that it was important and continues to be important for the business community and others to speak out in opposition. I think that definitely put some pressure on the folks that were supporting the bill.
This may be a bit of a hypothetical because we don’t know what the final version of the bill will be. But on what grounds, or under what statute, would legal challenges be made once it passed?
Well, a lot of that I’ll leave to the elections lawyers that have to lead litigation in these types of areas. But even just in being vice chair of the committee, there were lots of deviations from standard procedures and practices.
But it’s still a voter suppression bill. In my experience in working on Section 5 and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act — and obviously Section 5 doesn’t apply anymore — you can use those two standards on whether it’s the intent of the author to discriminate, or also the effect of it having a disparate impact on people of color who have historically been discriminated against.
And Texas has a long history of that. You can’t deny that. So I think that’s going to be where the strong argument is.
Looking at this bill and given your experience with the Obama campaign in 2012, what stands out here as something that could particularly restrict or limit voting?
Amid months of false claims by former President Donald J. Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states are marching ahead to pass laws making it harder to vote and changing how elections are run, frustrating Democrats and even some election officials in their own party.
- A Key Topic: The rules and procedures of elections have become a central issue in American politics. The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal-leaning law and justice institute at New York University, counts 361 bills in 47 states that seek to tighten voting rules. At the same time, 843 bills have been introduced with provisions to improve access to voting.
- The Basic Measures: The restrictions vary by state but can include limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting absentee ballots, and doing away with local laws that allow automatic registration for absentee voting.
- More Extreme Measures: Some measures go beyond altering how one votes, including tweaking Electoral College and judicial election rules, clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives, and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections.
- Pushback: This Republican effort has led Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A sweeping voting rights bill passed the House in March, but faces difficult obstacles in the Senate. Republicans have remained united against the proposal and even if the bill became law, it would likely face steep legal challenges.
- Florida: Measures here include limiting the use of drop boxes, adding more identification requirements for absentee ballots, requiring voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, limiting who could collect and drop off ballots, and further empowering partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
- Texas: The next big move could happen here, where Republicans in the legislature are brushing aside objections from corporate titans and moving on a vast election bill that would be among the most severe in the nation. It would impose new restrictions on early voting, ban drive-through voting, threaten election officials with harsher penalties and greatly empower partisan poll watchers.
- Other States: Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that would limit the distribution of mail ballots. The bill, which includes removing voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List if they do not cast a ballot at least once every two years, may be only the first in a series of voting restrictions to be enacted there. Georgia Republicans in March enacted far-reaching new voting laws that limit ballot drop-boxes and make the distribution of water within certain boundaries of a polling station a misdemeanor. Iowa has also imposed new limits, including reducing the period for early voting and in-person voting hours on Election Day. And bills to restrict voting have been moving through the Republican-led Legislature in Michigan.
A lot of the changes that my Republican colleagues argue for are about having uniformity throughout the state. Whether that is the amount of polling machines in every county — and you really can’t have uniformity when every county is different. Harris County is different than Loving County.
And so, in my experience in doing voter protection work, it’s important that these elections officials are able to administer their elections, because they’re the ones who are actually on the ground and able to address those issues.
Gov. Greg Abbott has made an election overhaul one of his “emergency priorities.” So expecting that he will want fellow Republicans in the Legislature to give him something to pass, how do you plan for future elections?
This session overall, a lot of members who have been here for years are saying that this is the worst session that they’ve served in. And I think people need to know that, and so messaging that to Texans — “Hey, this is what’s going on in your Capitol” — I hope will mobilize people to get out and vote.
So it’ll be incumbent on us to message that if these laws are put into place before the next election cycle, that they know what these new changes are, and hopefully that motivates them. So we can say: “Hey, this is what your vote means. If you don’t go vote, these are the folks that are representing you in Austin that are not making it easier for you to vote.”