GBTB – DFY Emily Eby | Voting Rights In Texas

Emily Eby of the Texas Civil Rights Project Takes Us Back to School to Learn About the History of Voting Rights in Texas (Elections)

 

Attention Mentions:

Emily: Ms. Marvel on Disney+

Claire: Selling the OC on Netflix

Nichole: Abbott Elementary on ABC and Hulu

The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) is a group of Texas lawyers and advocates for Texas communities, serving the movement for equality and justice in and out of the courts. Emily Eby, the Senior Election Protection Attorney & Policy Counsel for the TCRP, walks us through the history of voting rights in Texas. From her unique vantage point, she tries to explain why someone might be interested in suppressing the vote and how Texas responded to Shelby v. Holder ruling by the Supreme Court. She leads with a sense of optimism, humor, and hope for the future of voting rights in Texas. Prepare to learn and take away important facts about the history and current state of voting rights in Texas.

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Emily Eby of the Texas Civil Rights Project Takes Us Back to School to Learn About the History of Voting Rights in Texas (Elections)

Thank you for joining us for this episode. We have a great episode for you all. We speak with Emily Eby. She is a Senior Elections Protection Attorney and Policy Council at the Texas Civil Rights Project. We asked Emily to come to speak to us and share with you all about the history of voting in Texas. She is so knowledgeable about this issue around the history of voting in our state and some of these touch points that changed the state of voting in Texas, specifically Shelby County versus Holder and then also Senate Bill 1, which just passed in the last legislative session. We learned a lot from her but she is such a fun personality. She educated us in an edutaining manner. We think you all are going to love this episode. Nichole, what other fun things did we get from Emily?

We discovered Emily because we both watched a webinar about the history of voting in Texas, and both thought, “We need to have her on. Let’s do elections next, and we definitely ought to include a segment about the history of voting in Texas,” which, of course, includes the history of voting in the US. It’s broader than our state but gets into the nuggets of our state. I co-signed everything you said. She’s such a fun guest. It may not seem like it’s a fun subject but somehow, she makes it interesting and entertaining. Read this one. You will enjoy Emily and also then want to tune in to the Texas Civil Rights Project.

She has great information about the organization. Read this and go learn more.

We are super excited to be speaking with Emily Eby in this episode. She is with a Texas Civil Rights Project, and she’s going to help us understand the history of voting in Texas because it’s hard to understand where we are going until we look back and say, “Where do we come from?” Thanks for joining us, Emily. It’s good to have you.

Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to talk to you all about it.

Before we get into Texas Civil Rights Project, voting, and all that good stuff, we would love to learn a little bit more about you. Are you from Texas? What was your upbringing like?

I was born and raised in Texas. I have lived here all of my life except undergrad and will forever be atoning for going to undergrad in Oklahoma.

Did you go to OU?

I did go to OU, and then I went to UT law school. I’m everyone’s enemy, as we should be. I was born in Houston and raised in North Texas in Wichita Falls. I got the best of Texas and Houston and the not-so-best of Texas. Wichita Falls is not the most progressive area in the State of Texas. I went to law school in Austin. I have lived in Austin with a little bit of Houston in there ever since.

I love Texas. I am very obnoxious about it. I was wearing these shorts that had little Texases on them, and this guy out in public went, “God bless, Texas.” I was like, “Yeah, sometimes.” I then was like, “I’m wearing the shorts.” That’s my relationship with Texas. I was like, “Yes, I love it,” and also, we got to do better here.

There’s a lot of us here, too. We appreciate the work that you are doing. What made you want to go to law school?

I got an English degree and didn’t have a backup plan. I didn’t want to be a teacher because my mom told me not to be a teacher because she’s a teacher. I was like, “Writing sounds great but I would also love health insurance.” I do not recommend that anybody go to law school on that basis. It was not the best, and I took all my first-year courses and did okay but mostly, it was like, “What is the point of learning Property Law? I’m not helping anybody. They have to come to me and pay me if I’m going to help them with their contracts or any of these things I’m learning.”

In the 1st semester of my 2nd year, I took Mimi Marziani’s Voting Rights class. She’s the President of the Texas Civil Rights Project. I did follow her around until she would let me do voting rights stuff professionally. I was like, “Please let me,” but it was my light bulb moment. It was the time when I said, “This is the time that you are taking what you learn in law school and giving it to people to empower themselves.” I’m not a dragon hoarding all the gold, sitting on it and making people come to me. I’m learning about the law and giving it to people to make it more accessible for them to vote. That’s how they impact all these other things I’ve learned about that they don’t get a say in.

I imagine that was such a relief that moment where you were like, “This does have a purpose that I can enjoy,” because it sounds like it wasn’t fulfilling until then.

I do not know what I’m going to do in the next two years. Oil and gas don’t sound fun. It was very helpful to know, “I’m going to take every Voting Rights class this school ever offers,” and I absolutely did that.

It sounds like you were able to match your passion and your work. Also, you can do things that excite you.

As more and more counties go to machines, it's a lot easier to auto-populate a ballot. Share on X

I feel very lucky.

A lot of the work you do with the Texas Civil Rights Project is around elections and making sure people have the right to vote, and that voting is easier. That is a political thing because voting is all about electing our political representatives. What was it like for you growing up regarding politics? Were you from a family that discussed politics or was it like, “We are not going to go there?” What was it like around the dinner table?

I love my parents very much. They are lovely people. They were hardcore evangelical and remain very involved in their North Texas church to this day. Everything we talked about was viewed through that lens and not even a more expansive view of Christianity where you can have people who are a little bit more on the socialist side of what Jesus was saying. It was very much the 1980s Ronald Reagan version of Christianity.

Growing up, realizing some of those things that we talked about didn’t quite match and that I’m coming from a more middle-class family but my parents are friends with more upper-class people. They are voting against our middle-class interests because their upper-class friends are telling them to. Also, you are ostracized in Wichita Falls if you don’t vote for all the same people that all your neighbors and the deacons of your church vote for.

It was a slow process. My former boss at TCRP, Beth Stevens, my voting rights hero, always says it’s amazing that I got radicalized in Oklahoma. That’s how bad Wichita Falls must have been for me to go to college and learn. We are not extending these same privileges to everyone. It is about preserving power, and it is hard to get people to explain why voter suppression would be good. They’ve figured out a lot of tricks to say, “We want the elections to be secure,” even though elections in Texas are incredibly secure. “We want to make sure people want to vote, so they get their ID. That’s how we know people want to vote.”

When it comes down to it, it’s hard to get people to explain why voting should be limited to a set group of people who almost always happen to be White. It’s one of those crazy coincidences that fall apart as soon as you ask somebody about it. I have ruined more than one Thanksgiving with things like that but it’s okay. Now, my siblings also help me ruin Thanksgiving by talking about voter suppression at the table. We formed a caucus.

We appreciate you sharing that personal story and the growth journey you’ve gone through. I can identify with that. I went to Wheaton College, which is a very small liberal arts evangelical school. Similarly, I went there. I wouldn’t say I got radicalized. The wheels were turning, and I was like, “I don’t know. Does Jesus believe this agenda?” My parents laugh at me. They were like, “Only you would go to Wheaton and come out progressive.” I was like, “Me and ten others. It’s all good.”

Those people are friends for life, too. You are like, “We all get it.” We all had to watch the same VeggieTales growing up, and now we understand that this one VeggieTales was about why you should unionize your workplace. That’s another episode for another time.

That would be a great topic to dig into. We will put a bit into that.

Totally, because we have definitely been searching. We will have these little offline conversations like, “What could be a purely entertaining mindless subject?” Maybe this is. A little reexamination of VeggieTales and which, for me, would be a first-time watch.

It’s not a universal recommend but there’s some good stuff.

It was a point in my childhood that sticks out but we are getting a little back on track with the Texas Civil Rights Project. You said that you connected with that group because your professor was the founder of it. Is that right?

Mimi is the Executive Director. We were founded in 1990 as more of what we call a direct legal services organization like Legal Aid. Somebody comes to us with a case, and they can’t afford legal representation. For the first twenty or so years of TCRP, that would be what they did. Over the last few years, TCRP has evolved to be a combination of impact litigation, which is figuring out a place where the law doesn’t reflect what we think it should reflect.

GBTB – DFY Emily Eby | Voting Rights In Texas
Voting Rights In Texas: Voting rights in the United States have expanded. We like to think of voting rights as points along a line, but in reality, it’s more of an expanding and contracting circle.

 

The law in practice doesn’t reflect constitutional principles, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, the Motor Voter Law, or things like that. Suing on a very specific point to get the law to reflect that which we’ve had some success doing, even in the conservative Fifth Circuit, which, unfortunately, Texas is a part of.

We also do a lot of advocacy. Pointing out places where let’s say, a county elections department doesn’t reflect what the actual law of Texas does. We go to them and say, “You could make this Pro-Voter Reform now. It wouldn’t cost very much. It’s already legal so that you won’t get targeted by the state. We can help you with the legal implementation of this process.” A lot of counties in Texas have gone to countywide polling since 2018.

About 40% of the counties that do this program have done it since 2018, when we started trying to peer pressure counties into doing it, which means that people can vote at any polling place on Election Day, as long as their county goes through the process to get that approved. If there’s a long line, you can go to a different polling place with a shorter line. Now, about 21 million Texans are able to vote at any polling place on Election Day. Twenty-one million Texans live in a place where you can vote. Several of those Texans are five-year-olds who cannot vote. That’s the population breakdown. It’s very lawyerly of me to correct that.

We appreciate it. Just so I understand. Countywide polling means that you can vote at any polling location in your county. Is that right?

During early voting, anybody in Texas can vote at any polling location in the county where they are registered. On Election Day, by default, every Texas county requires you to go to your precinct but Texas has a law where a county can apply and jump through a bunch of hoops if you can believe it, and then that early voting accessibility applies on Election Day also. That is, almost every Texan now lives in a county where you can do that.

It’s special for Election Day. It sounds backward. I’m sure a lot of this is backward, as we will get into it.

It’s one of the few things. There’s a decent reason for this because counties used to do paper ballots. If I go to vote in my precinct, then I know that Stu Jones, who is my councilman, is going to be on the paper ballot in my precinct. However, as more and more counties go to machines, it’s a lot easier to auto-populate a ballot that is tailored to you no matter where in the county you are voting. Certainly, Texas won’t let you easily update with that voting. You have to go through the hoops of the process that the statute sets out. Now, it’s a lot easier for us to do that technologically, so there’s a mechanism to do it.

I’m having so many light bulbs go off or only one, maybe. I didn’t consider the implications of when I go to vote, and they hand me my ballot, what was happening at that moment, but now, with your explanation, I’m like, “It is a personalized ballot. The person behind me is potentially getting the same one but maybe not because they could be in a different precinct.” I never considered that moment until now.

It’s so funny because there’s a mix in Texas of, “An actual legitimate reason for something, and they are just trying to keep people from voting.” I try to tell people about those where I can so that I feel more credible when I’m like, “There is no good reason for this.”

We appreciate that. I always like to ask, “It should be this way but why wouldn’t it be?” Like, “Yes, I get that,” or being like, “No. That sounds nonsense.” We are getting a little bit into some of the rules and some of the history but can you give us in a few minutes the history of voting in Texas and where we’ve come from since Texas has allowed voting to where we are now?

I’m going to refer back to my notes to make sure I’m not getting any dates wrong. Pardon me if there’s a pause, again, it’s way too lawyerly. I would be like, “I’m a cool lawyer. I’m not a regular lawyer,” but it still sneaks in. Voting in the United States rights have expanded, and we like to think of voting rights as points along a line. “Only White property owning men could vote,” and then reconstruction, “Now Black men can also vote.” In reality, it’s more of an expanding and contracting circle, and There are a lot more points throughout history that I certainly, as a White lady who grew up in Texas, did not always think about.

White property-owning men in 1787, before Texas was the state, were given the right to vote. In 1870, Black men were given the right to vote. In reconstruction, they sold out Rutherford B. Hayes, which is forever my least favorite president, which is a very wonky least favorite president to have. He sold out the South to preserve his power. He said, “If you will elect me as the next president, I will end reconstruction in the South.”

The Union Soldiers were still here in 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War, defending the right to vote. There were pictures of Black people in East Texas going to the polls and a line of Union Soldiers standing in front of them. Those laws were only enabled when Rutherford Hayes pulled the Union troops out of the South in exchange for the votes of Southerners and the political power that he got.

A lot of the most evil things have come from people trying to preserve their power. Share on X

1870 was a long time ago but voter suppression never stops being about preserving power. Any official can do it. It happens from all sides that folks want to preserve their power, and there are good people all over the place who genuinely want people to vote but a lot of the evilest things have come from people trying to preserve their power.

In 1920, White women got the right to vote but indigenous people didn’t get the right to vote in the United States until 1924 in the Federal Elections. In some states, they did not get the right to vote until 1962, even though this is their land that we live on. In 1943, Chinese-American immigrants were given the right to vote. 1965 is the Voting Rights Act, where Texan LBJ signed into law the Federal protections for Black people to vote. BIPOC communities were meaningfully protected in 1965.

Young people got the right to vote in the ‘70s. People 18 to 21, the voting age was lowered, and there were a couple of other little wonky things in there. The next real voting rights change was to me in 2013, when the Supreme Court heard Shelby County versus Holder. The facts of the case are beyond the scope of what we are talking about now. Essentially, Chief Justice John Roberts said in 2013, “This formula we used to have that was in the Voting Rights Act that protected states where there was a history of voter suppression are outdated. Racist voter suppression is basically over.”

He took away this pre-clearance requirement that required places like Texas, with a history of voter suppression, to submit any voting changes to the DOJ to get them approved. The DOJ did not turn down a lot of submitted voter changes because when you have to ask somebody before you do something bad, you are not going to do the bad thing because you would have to ask and have it on the record. This voter suppression seatbelt was gone all across the United States, and the vote suppressors who had been dying for this day to happen started passing laws immediately. The next day, the day after Shelby County came down, Texas enacted a voter ID Law that had been illegal the day before.

Was it literally that immediate?

They were ready. This is part of the project to control the courts. The courts had signaled in an earlier decision that one of the Conservative justices had written a little Post-it note in there that said, “We think this formula is outdated, and we might get rid of it.” All across the country, people who had helped put those people on the court said, “Time to load it up.” They did that in North Carolina. All across the United States, it was the next day, things that had been illegal or would have been considered illegal the day before were enacted.

That’s why Texas had a Photo ID Law that says you have to have a photo ID, even the Fifth Circuit, which is very conservative said, “This Photo ID Law is racist.” Now, we have this mishmash law that’s a photo ID plus the solution that they came up with to satisfy the court that is very confusing. Honestly, that is probably fine with the people who suppressed the vote. I think that the confusion is the thing.

The confusion, in my mind, creates a sense of anxiety and fear. If you are confused and the worry is that there’s going to be some legal consequence, that is scary.

In Texas, we have leadership that wants you to be afraid. They want you to know that they are going to chase down any innocent election mistake, and it is very rare that they get a conviction but they are always going to seek it. That makes people scared. Confusion is always the point to me, and if people have a misconception about the law but also work a job and have a family, they don’t have time to clear up a misconception about the law. Why would they? Only us nerds have time to dig in and clear up that misconception about the law. Regular folks like my mom are just going to work and living their lives with these misconceptions deeply internalized that keep them out of the polling place.

I was going to rewind a few steps. Back to the Shelby versus Holder case, you said that Chief Justice Roberts basically said, “Racism is not a problem anymore,” but what was his thought process based on?

Forgive me, to my professors, if they ever read this. In the Voting Rights Act, this formula that entire states that were covered had to submit these voting changes to the DOJ, and then there were counties. If you go a certain number of years without people finding voter discrimination in your county or state, then you can get removed from this list.

There were counties that had gotten removed from this list. There were areas that had been like, “You are rehabilitated.” There was a process for if racism was over, which we all know and ever are. What John Roberts was saying is that this formula is outdated but there was a process for if the formula was outdated within the formula.

The Voting Rights Act kept coming up before Congress. They kept reauthorizing it. During the Bush administration, they reauthorized this formula within the Voting Rights Act, 98 to 0 in the Senate. Nobody voted against it, and the two people who were going to vote against it abstained because it’s too embarrassing to say you’re against Voting Rights, which was a different time and, in many ways, a worse time. I do long for that one particular aspect where people were embarrassed to be against voting. Chief Justice Roberts thought that Congress should have updated the formula even though the formula was self-updating.

GBTB – DFY Emily Eby | Voting Rights In Texas
Voting Rights In Texas: In Texas, we have leadership that wants you to be afraid. They want you to know they will chase down any innocent election mistake. They rarely get a conviction, but they will always seek it, which makes people scared.

 

This is a question. He removed the formula because he felt like it was outdated but there wasn’t anything that replaced it because you can’t legislate from the bench like that. It’s gone, and then Congress didn’t do anything to replace what had been there.

The one word-for-word quote that I remember from law school is, in that case, in Shelby County. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent, said, “Getting rid of the Voting Rights Act formula because there is less racial voter suppression is like getting rid of your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Things had improved for voters, especially Black voters in the South, over the course of the years with the Voting Rights Act in its full power, and that is because of the Voting Rights Act.

This formula that required pre-clearance, the Voting Rights Act, is still technically law. The Supreme Court especially is doing its best to punch big wide holes in it but this one particular pointed aspect of the law was what created that progress. Since then, we have seen a regress. It has happened exactly as Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it would.

You had a tool belt and were like, “I don’t need it anymore. It’s not going to break. It’s fine.” It sounds like voting, politics, and democracy. You got to tune it up from time to time so you are not like, “We are done.”

There’s no social problem that we are ever going to be like, “We solved it. It’s gone.” They only morph, and we try to fix the morphed version of it, and then it morphs to something else. Hopefully, it gets smaller but these things don’t go away. You would think that the chief justice of the highest court in the land would understand that.

The other thing, the evidence to me, is in the response. The fact that the very next day across the nation and obviously in Texas, things were enacted that clearly the day before would have been considered illegal says everything.

Texas has closed 750 polling places since 2013. In 2012, we had 1 polling place per 4,000 Texans, which is crazy. It’s not a good number. In 2018, we had one polling place per 7,700 Texans. It’s almost double that person-to-polling place ratio. All of these are in Black, Brown, and Latinx communities. It’s not a coincidence where these polling places are closing, who is being disenfranchised, and who is having to walk or attempt public transit in Texas to get to their polling place that used to be around the corner.

We are already getting into it but to segue into voter suppression and what that looks like. For some people, I can even be guilty of this. I always vote during early voting. It’s never too busy. I pop in there, get it done, and I leave. I could see how someone like me would be, “What do you mean voter suppression is happening? This is not a problem for me,” but what does it look like for the folks that you are interacting with and that you all are working with?

Time for my company-mandated shameless plug. When we are working on the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline, which provides nonpartisan customer service to all voters, Texas puts in place all of these hurdles. I love working on the hotline non-corporate voice time. I love working to solve issues for folks from the hotline because there is a way to counteract the hurdles with knowledge. There’s a way that I can help you jump over these hurdles. I love that the hotline is accessible and helpful for jumping over those hurdles.

The way it works to me is that the hurdles start long before you can ever cast a ballot or even know where your polling place is. For voter registration in Texas, we only use paper registration, which is annoying to have to try to find paper voter registration in Texas. If you are a voter registrar, somebody who can hand out that paper registration and go delivers it directly to the county, first, you have to be certified as a voter registrar to do that.

Second, you have to get certified in each county. I’m certified in Travis County. I can go to Harris County and say, “Will you please give me reciprocal voter registrar status?” I will probably have to fill out a form. They are supposed to do it automatically. There are 254 counties in Texas. At UNT, for example, in Denton, people might live in Denton. They might live in Collin County. They might live in any of the DFW counties and go to your school. If you want to be a voter registrar on campus, you have to get certified in all of those counties.

Once you fill out your paper registration, it has to be manually entered by people at the County Elections Office. It doesn’t automatically go into a database, and you can get typos. You can get a box on a form that wasn’t checked, so your voter registration doesn’t go through, and they have to reach back out to you. All this has to be done 30 days before the election, which is the farthest out that the Federal Law allows the voter registration deadline to be. There are a lot of places you can go in, and on the very same day that you vote, you can change or update or fill out a first-time registration. I had a woman from Louisiana show me that they have an app they can do it in.

Louisiana has an app. What is Texas’ excuse? There are things like polling places closing down. If you are used to voting at the community center around the corner and that community center drops off the polling places list, you have to figure out where the next one is. Most counties list that on their website. They are required to by law. Most of them comply, but you have to go find that. That’s something you have to google in your own time.

Time spent on something doesn’t necessarily correlate to how much you care about it. Share on X

Things like you cannot use your phone in the polling place, which has a lot of good things to it. “I don’t want to be recorded while I’m casting my ballot. I don’t want to be filmed in the polling place but I have to fill out my sample ballot on paper or write down who I want to vote for before I go into the polling place and take a piece of paper in.” All these things that, in a vacuum, you should say, “If you care about voting, you wouldn’t mind writing it down.” Even in Harris County, where you have 80 races on your ballot but if you cared about voting, you wouldn’t mind writing it down.

Once you start stacking those up, it’s hours and hours of work to get you in the polling place for one election. If you don’t have a photo ID, which many people don’t, specifically in Texas, it is Black and Brown people who don’t have a photo ID, which is why this strict Photo ID Law was struck down by the court. Texas says, “You can get a one-time election ID certificate as your photo ID.

If you want to, you have to go to the DMV, and you have to get a DPS appointment. You have to go to that appointment at a deeply inconvenient time. You have to sit in the uncomfortable waiting room on the uncomfortable plastic chair, take a day off work or take an hour off work even. It all adds up, and Vote suppressors think they have this great plausible deniability where they could go, “If you cared about voting, you would do that,” but you shouldn’t have to care this much to participate and to use your constitutional given right to cast your ballot.

It sounds like death by a thousand cuts.

Everything is wildly specific. It’s so tiny. These details are bizarre, small, and little but you are exactly right. They stack up to where, as I’m listening, I’m starting to get a headache, honestly. It’s like, “I can’t keep track of it all.” It’s a whole lot and again, I’m saying it as somebody who couldn’t be easier for me. I would be considered a very privileged person, and my mind is about to explode. I have a super basic question. I hesitate to ask it because I’m a little embarrassed that I have to ask. The issue of Black and Brown people not having photo identification as often as their White counterparts, is there an answer for why that is the case or what’s that about?

It’s not a basic question. It is something that the state relies on a lot of people not believing it when they hear that, and I love to debunk things like that. Thank you for asking it. It is a lot of different factors. There is structural poverty in America. Going back to 1619, poverty in America has been born largely by Black and Brown folks in our country.

It costs money to get an ID. It’s basic. I went and got my driver’s license renewed. It cost me $33. That doesn’t feel like a lot to me or it did. I was like, “$33. I had to come to you,” but it’s not insurmountable to me. If it is between $33 for my kid’s lunch or $33 for my photo ID, especially if I don’t drive, which a lot of folks who are living beneath the poverty line don’t drive. It’s easy.

I’m paying for my kid’s school lunch every time. It’s one of those perpetuating problems where poverty in America was born by Black and Brown people. Anything that costs money is harder to access for Black and Brown people. There is an interaction between folks who don’t drive and Black and Brown people who tend to live in cities big cities and big areas that do have public transit. It’s also freely hard to get.

To deal with public transit in Texas, we have some of the worst public transit in all of the United States. Arlington, Texas, is the biggest city in the United States that does not have a public transit system. I will be yelling about that until the day I die or until the day they get public transit, I guess. Those are the reasons that I know about that I can articulate. I’m sure there are many more.

It makes so much sense, and also what you pointed out before, too, which is something that I had to remind myself of is renewing my license or when I got it for the first time, it is a whole event. It does take time, and it’s a signup process. It’s a waiting process. There’s also navigating that system and having the time and the space to do that. Imagine if you worked and taking time off means that you are losing part of your pay. What’s that trade-off? You are also paying to get that identification, and you’re losing money because you are not at work during that time. That’s a lot that you have to contend with.

I do want to note that in Texas, you don’t have to have that photo ID. If you have one of those photo IDs, you have to bring it and use it to check in to vote but if you don’t, you can sign a reasonable impediment declaration, which is a document they have at every polling place in Texas that says, “Here’s the reason that I could not get a photo ID.”

It’s 1 of 7 things but they are incredibly broad things like family responsibilities, lack of transportation, and work schedule, all the way to specific things like, “My ID was lost or stolen. That’s why I don’t have it.” If you fill out that reasonable impediment declaration and sign the document, then you can use a non-photo ID like your utility bill or anything issued by the state that has your name and address on it.

The address doesn’t have to match where you are registered. Your ID is to prove your identity, not your residency. You can use an expired ID. Any ID that’s expired up to 4 years if you are under 70 and for any length of time if you are over 70 years old but these are super wonky things that it’s taken me four years of working in voting rights every day to learn to rattle these off and that. I would never know if I were not paid to know this.

GBTB – DFY Emily Eby | Voting Rights In Texas
Voting Rights In Texas: Vote suppressors think they have this great, plausible deniability where they could go, “well, if you really cared about voting, you would do that.” Still, you shouldn’t have to care this much to participate and to use your constitutional given right to cast your ballot.

 

There is an exception but you have to know the exception and come prepared with this other documentation that somehow you know.

I’m also thinking that if you are being deeply affected by poverty, are you going to have access to a utility bill in your name?

Yeah. You could also use your voter registration certificate that they mail you but mail gets lost and is hard to find. Out-of-state IDs, even if it’s a photo ID, require a reasonable impediment declaration, and I know that. I love poll workers. They are awesome. They are some of our greatest heroes in America, especially in this current election climate but poll workers are often regular people who don’t work in voting rights, almost always.

It’s a retiree or somebody taking a day off work because they care about this but they are not as deep in Election Law. Every year, we get calls saying, “They won’t let me use my out-of-state ID,” and it’s almost always a good-faith mistake by somebody who has not been trained in every possible corner of voting rights in Texas.

As we are talking about this, it’s making me curious. What is the argument for making voting harder?

That is a very good question, and I am going to do my best to put on the hat of somebody who would say that. Other than people who want to preserve power, who are elected by the people who have always been voting and therefore want only those people to keep voting forever, so they keep electing that person, the argument for making voting harder is to make sure that people who go to vote care about their democracy. It is people with a lot of free time making that argument, and this is something that I believe. I don’t know if this is universal. This is not a TCRP opinion, TM but I don’t think that time spent on something necessarily correlates to how much you care about it.

You can care a lot about democracy and also about your family and your job or jobs. Going to vote is the thing that shows that you care. Trying to cast that ballot is the thing that shows that you care, not all this time spent jumping through these unreasonable hoops all along the way. That is the best I can do. There might be a better answer but I honestly can’t understand why anyone would want to make voting harder. I’m probably not giving that the best answer.

I’m thinking I feel like there are people in my life who would say, “We should be making it harder.” As you are saying, if you do care about this, about the direction our country is going to take, you better jump through those hoops. It almost seems like a philosophical difference, I suppose anybody.

We hear a lot about voter apathy in Texas. Every time the voter turnout is lower than they think it’s going to be or the voter turnout even on 1 side for 1 party or the other is lower. They are like, “Why don’t voters in Texas care?” You can find all kinds of headlines but my friend, Alex Birnel, who works at MOVE Texas, loves to talk about how we don’t put the burden on the voter but it’s not apathy.

That is a created condition of our system that makes the voter come to the institution. In India, in the 2019 election, they set a goal of having a polling place within 1.25 miles of every single voter in India. There are these great pictures from Reuters of Indian election workers hiking into the mountains to serve. They helicoptered in to serve a polling place of 16 and 49 voters. They are bringing the elections to the people, and you don’t hear stories about voter apathy out there because it’s incumbent on the government to take the voting to the people, which makes a lot of sense.

Luckily, I am engaged but if I was dating and was like, “Men are apathetic about me because they are not coming to me and I haven’t left my house in fifteen weeks,” which would be my preference always. That’s not a problem with men. That is a problem with me sitting on my couch, not putting myself out there. There is no other situation where we are like, “People are so apathetic when you are not reaching out to the people that you claim don’t care enough.

There are so many great metaphors like you are discussing. We expect people to pursue it. It’s also like, “What does that even look like, this version of caring enough? You sleep outside polling places for the week before an election, and that shows you care. What in the world do people have to do?” It’s fascinating.

Also, caring is not a prerequisite to voting. If you made people fill out a form about how much they care, nobody would be like, “You got to care real hard to get in this polling place.” It’s not logical. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

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I will read some entrepreneurial books or business books, and they are all about figuring out how to make people do the thing you want them to do. 9 times out of 10, it’s about removing the points of friction. If you make it easier for people, they are more likely to get on board and develop that habit. It’s like, “Why aren’t we following the advice of our dear capitalist entrepreneurs?”

Texas gets all the worst of capitalism. Why aren’t we taking the benefits of capitalism, which creates a frictionless path between a person and the thing they are buying? If I had to fill out a form to get a hamburger and I could only get a hamburger between 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM on these ten days, I would never eat a hamburger because that’s not how anything works.

We need some economists to get in there and be like, “What behavior are we trying to encourage, and what behavior are we trying to discourage?”

There is the answer. It’s exactly what behavior we are trying to discourage.

I’m glad you guys agree. I always feel a little bit tin foil hat about this because I care a lot about it.

Let’s circle back and talk a little bit about those myths and misconceptions that are out there. As you were saying, I do personally believe that there is, and I don’t know if I’m going to call it apathy but maybe some cynicism towards voting that people have, especially if you live in a very red or blue area. You are like, “Does my vote count because it always goes to this party or that party?” How do you guys overcome that type of thinking?

My friend, Amber Mills, also of MOVE Texas, asked her about this. I was like, “What do you do when you are registering voters?” They say that my vote doesn’t matter. She talked a lot about how there are close races all the time, especially at the local level. There are places where your one vote makes a huge difference. Your 25 votes of you and your 24 friends that you talk to, and you all agreed that voting doesn’t matter, those votes will sway an election one way or another in people who are doing stuff in your community.

People who are deciding where the resources are allocated that you pay your local taxes for. This is something Amber said to me, “Voting is an act of community care.” I know that this is not, “Your vote matters,” but as a personal value, I want to show my community that I care about them. I go in and cast my ballot because I believe that I’m voting for what is best for my community. I can tell my friends and my family that I voted for this proposition because it matters to me that people are not incarcerated for being homeless.

It matters to me that people are not incarcerated for a small amount of drugs that traditionally White people have gotten away with having, and Black and Brown people have been incarcerated for having. It does matter to show people that you went in and did one of the only proactive things we can do to change our democracy because it matters to you what happens in your community.

The other thing, Claire, I’m reminded of the conversation we had with Dr. Young. Emily, we had a guest who is a member of the State Board of Education. This was the election when she was a trustee of her local ISD, Apple Springs. She tied with a young man for her seat on the school board, and they won by three votes. I only want to underline, and you are exactly right. In a lot of these local races, it can come down to very few votes. Your vote does matter.

I’m going to repeat that story.

It’s also a butterfly effect. She was able to observe on the school board, and I’m sure that helped propel her to the State Board of Education. It puts people on paths they might have never been on had they not won or lost but they can’t do it themselves. They have to do it with the voters saying, “Yeah or no.”

Even if your candidate loses, you’ve sent a message to the other candidate. By not voting for them, you’ve said, “I didn’t like what you did in the last legislative session. You have never worried about your seat. Now, you are worried. The next two years might not go the way that you thought they were going to go because I’ve sent you a message.” Even though you didn’t ultimately get exactly what you voted for, you’ve signaled your disapproval of the person in the office.

GBTB – DFY Emily Eby | Voting Rights In Texas
Voting Rights In Texas: Texas gets all the worst of capitalism. Why aren’t we taking the benefits of capitalism, which creates a frictionless path between a person and what they’re buying?

 

That’s another echo. We talked about redefining winning and how, if you can shape the conversation, that’s a victory too. Something that I have gotten tired of is feeling that we are not having the right conversations. If you can help with that.

Later in this election series, we are going to speak to some women whose whole mission is to help Democrats run in very red rural districts where traditionally they do not win. It’s important to have that conversation with them because it’s a long shot of them winning or not but it’s that idea of reframing winning.

It’s letting people know you have another option, and with that person being in the race, you are going to change the conversation and hopefully open up to more people. More people will be interested in getting involved and throwing in their two cents, which needs to happen because in too many races, there is no opposition, and that is not good for any of us. We need a variety of voices and not like, “This party or all that party.” We just need a dialogue.

I would’ve killed for that growing up in Wichita Falls, where I didn’t know a progressive. I didn’t know people felt the other way until probably high school. I wished that I had been exposed to more viewpoints and that somebody had run publicly in my district that my family had talked about it around the dinner table. I still have a little bit of poll, not as much as I did when I was eighteen but with folks that are longtime family friends, I might be the only person who talks to them about why there is no evidence of voter fraud. Any law predicated on voter fraud is probably not being honest with you about why it exists.

Speaking of going back in time in our youth, I’m interested in what high school students are learning. Do you know what is required of them that they have to learn regarding Civics education?

I don’t know for sure what is required in Civics education but I know there is a State Law in Texas. One of the few crazy good things that we have that requires every single high school in Texas to extend voter registration to their eligible seniors twice a year. It can either be an outside registrar that they bring in or somebody who is deputized at the school, a principal, a vice principal or the Civics teacher to extend that to those students, which naturally starts a conversation about, “Why do you want me to fill out this form? What am I getting out of this voter registration other than one more piece of mail,” which I don’t even know if Gen Z-ers like mail? I get stressed out by mail.

It’s a good way for the teachers to start that conversation with students, and it’s required by law. Do we have great compliance rates with that law in Texas? We sure don’t, but I have met a lot of high school students, teachers, and voter registrars, especially with the League of Women Voters, who care a lot about this. Also, Voto Latino and all of these organizations are working to make sure students are getting that opportunity that is their right by law.

When these school districts are figuring out how they are going to get their students the opportunity to register to vote, who’s doing that? Is it the principals?

I’ve not done a ton of work on high school voter registration but in my experience, it’s either one student or a group of students, or one teacher or a group of teachers who care about voting. Not to be biased because of my English degree but a lot of times, it is either History or an English teacher who teaches. You talk to your kids about To Kill a Mockingbird and all of these great books that you read, and then you want to give them the opportunity to live out those values. It’s not standardized whether it comes from the principal or a certain person in the school district but every school district is notified of its right and obligation to do this by the Secretary of State of Texas every year. The principals at least know that it is something they are supposed to do.

I felt like Emily. You finally got to where I think Claire was going, which is trying to discover if it was standardized, and it sounds like it is not. It is very willy-nilly. On every campus, it could be different. The person who makes sure that it’s happening or there’s nobody making sure that it’s happening. That person can be different from one place to another.

It’s an email in the inbox of the principal at the very least but it’s typically not driven that way.

If you are going to have these rules or policies or whatever it is for people, surely you have some of that like, “This is how you are going to accomplish that,” but it sounds like there isn’t that standardization. I’m like, “Who’s doing it? How do you know if they are doing it?”

It is not currently a priority of our Texas Secretary of State, who co-defendant a lawsuit in Pennsylvania for Donald Trump alleging election fraud that didn’t exist. That’s a fun thing that our Secretary of State has in his little resume. I can’t imagine why he’s not excited about getting the next generation to vote.

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It’s because fraud is everywhere. Even in Pennsylvania, you got to go all the way up there.

All the way up there, and then find it inside your head where you made it up.

Now, we are going to look into our crystal ball. Where do you see Texas going as far as voter participation is concerned? Is it getting better? Do you think it’s getting worse?

I think it’s getting better. I personally did not work in Texas Voting Rights until 2018 but I have seen more and more people getting engaged. The Youth Voter Movement in Texas is booming. Gen Z-ers are voting in Texas at a rate no other generation has ever voted, especially at their age. Texas is a majority-minority state now. It is continuing to grow as a majority-minority state.

Can you explain that quickly for the readers who might be curious?

Texas is now made up of a greater percentage of people of color like Black, Latinx, and Asian-American folks than it is of White people. White people are now in the minority, and I don’t believe that there is anyone BIPOC group that is in the majority but as a group, there are more BIPOC folks in Texas now than there are White folks. It is booming the population, especially BIPOC folks, and the voter suppression is going to keep getting worse or they are going to keep attempting to make it worse.

They can gerrymander the districts pretty heavily, which they did. People of color lost representation despite accounting for something like 90% of our population growth but there’s only so much they can do. The dam is going to break at some point. There’s only so much that people who want to stop voters can do, and Texas doesn’t have any sign of slowing down in terms of the voting electorate changing.

At my voting rights retreat with TCRP and my colleagues, somebody called it reckless optimism. Somebody else called it hopeless optimism, which I thought was funny but somewhere in between, there is the truth that Texas cannot stay suppressed forever. At some point, the dam is going to break, and they are going to have to come up with some new devious way of getting what they want if it’s not what the people of Texas are asking for.

I wonder too, as we are having many folks relocate here, and they realize the system that we have in place. Perhaps they are used to different, better, and easier systems in other states that they will start speaking up and saying, “Back where I lived, it wasn’t this hard.” To make that a question, if people read this episode and were like, “I do not like what is being done, and I don’t want to see further voter suppression happen,” how can they have their voice heard and let their representatives know that we are over this?

The legislative session runs from January to May of every odd-numbered year. They sometimes call special sessions because they don’t get the voter suppression they want in those 5 to 6 months but when legislation is coming out, call your representative and follow organizations like MOVE Texas, Texas Civil Rights Project, and Texas Freedom Network. All of these folks who are talking about what the laws are, following those, and reacting to laws you don’t like.

I am also somewhat nerdy and a very big proponent of getting involved with your local county Commissioners Court. County commissioners answer to you. There are not that many in each county. They have to answer their residents. A lot of times, they live not too far from where you live. They shop at the same grocery stores that you do. They are the ones who set the polling locations. They are the ones who set the funding for your local elections department.

If you are mad about these things, you can truly email or call your county commissioner’s office. They will probably meet with you. I can’t speak for every commissioner in the State of Texas but they are your neighbors. They answer directly to you in this small margin, oftentimes local elections that we are talking about, and you can impact a ton of policy, and that’s only on elections.

There are all kinds of education stuff they are in charge of. Many other policy areas and environmental things like who gets to build what, where in your community, and whether that is based on environmental and racial justice. They are not building the polluting factory in the poorest neighborhood in your county. If you are able to reach out and speak up about it, this all requires a lot of time and attention. Not everyone is going to be able to put in that amount of time and attention. No one should have to put in that amount of time and attention but I would say I get involved at the local level, especially with your county commissioners and your county judge.

GBTB – DFY Emily Eby | Voting Rights In Texas
Voting Rights In Texas: It does matter to show people that you went in and did one of the only proactive things we can do to change our democracy because it matters to you what happens in your community.

 

I appreciate you calling that out. I feel like the county Commissioners Court flies under the radar, and not a lot of people pay attention to what they are doing, but they do have such a big impact on our everyday lives like our roads. As you were saying, building development and things that a lot of times we blame the city hall on, and they do have a hand in it but somehow, county commissioners are quiet over here doing their own thing.

Some of them like that but we are still their boss. As the electorate, we are still in charge of them.

Nichole, do you have any outstanding questions before we move on to our last piece of the interview?

I don’t, but I’m going to start paying attention to county commissioners. That’s a little takeaway that I will share before we move on to our last bit.

We didn’t prepare you for this, Emily but hopefully, it will be fun, nonetheless. When we wrap up, we like to do our little segment called Attention Mentions. It’s where we mentioned something that has our attention like a show you have been watching, a book you’ve read, an article or maybe a unique experience you had. It’s a fun way to send you off and give our readers something to go seek out if they are interested. Does anything come to mind for you or do you want us to come back?

Yes. I spend way too much time watching TV and movies. I have finished up Better Call Saul but as an attorney on this show, I feel like I should not recommend that because I don’t want you guys to think that I am ambulance chasing in the same exact way that Saul is. I’ve watched Ms. Marvel on Disney+. I was like a Marvel kid in college. I’m sure I seem way too cool to have been into that stuff but I had been getting some fatigue with the big punchy like, “They are fighting on public transportation again. I wonder if this bus is going to get caught in half.”

I’m very tired of that thing, and watching Ms. Marvel completely took a defibrillator to my fatigue because it’s about a Pakistani-American young woman. It went into her family’s generational trauma and talked about partition, which was something that I didn’t know very much about. It’s visually gorgeous. There are neon colors and lasers and all these things that you haven’t seen in a lot of these movies. I was just so interested in the story it was telling. I’m so charmed by every single member of the cast. Unfortunately, I will continue to put my money into the Marvel industrial complex forever.

That’s a good one to hear about. I’ve not seen it, and that sounds like something I would enjoy.

You do not have to do all the Marvel homework to enjoy it. I will say that.

I wouldn’t, so that’s good.

I can’t recommend it.

I will have to check that out. That sounds great. It sounds delightful.

Do you have yours, Claire?

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Yeah. It’s silly, but it has my attention so that I will say it. I’ve been watching Selling the OC on Netflix, which is ridiculous, delightful, and real estate porn. These houses are insane. They are $10 million-plus and this gorgeous coastal California but it’s nice because it’s a short season. They are twenty minutes, and it’s not serious. Sometimes you need the ridiculous to balance out the heaviness of life.

You need women in tiny stiletto heels pushing back doors that are five times their size on the edge of a California home.

How do you do that? How do you wear that?

I will round it out and will stay in the wheelhouse of everyone here. Delightful feels like a little bit of a theme going on here, so I’m going to stick with delightful, although I don’t know if you said that about Selling the OC, Claire. They are fun but I am changing gears. Delightful is the continuing theme that I made up, and it is for Abbott Elementary. Have you guys watched that?

Yes.

It’s hilarious. Abbott Elementary is so fun to watch, and I watched it on Hulu. They got renewed so that you can get into it, folks. It’s on ABC and also on Hulu.

It’s on Disney+ too. That show is so great. I somehow missed it. I was looking at all the Emmy nominations that were on there, and I was like, “I should maybe check this out.”

It’s one of those all-time great sitcoms already. You can just tell. Put it in the pantheon.

I love Quinta Brunson so much.

Thank you for your recommendation, Emily. I’m going to check out that show. Thank you so much for sharing more with us about what voting looks like here in Texas and a little bit of the history. We have to tell all of our readers. Don’t forget to vote. It’s coming up on November 8th, 2022. Mark your calendar or vote beforehand during early voting if you can make that happen. Tell us one more time. What was the name of the hotline if you have any issues with voting?

If you have any issues with voting, call 866-OUR-VOTE. We are nonpartisan. It’s staffed all during early voting and on Election Day. We have a bunch of lawyers, and all they want to do is help you solve your election problem, even if it’s something as small as like, “Where am I supposed to go vote?” If you like driving in the car, you don’t want to google it, call the hotline. We will google it for you, and we would be thrilled to. No problem is too big or too small. Call 866-OUR-VOTE, and you might talk to me also, which would be fun for me.

Thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

Thanks so much for having me.

 

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About Emily Eby

GBTB – DFY Emily Eby | Voting Rights In TexasEmily is the Senior Election Protection Attorney and Policy Counsel at Texas Civil Rights Project. At TCRP, she has helped lead the Election Protection program for three election cycles, training over 1200 volunteers to provide non-partisan “customer service” for voters. She has also worked on local reforms via Democracy from the Ground Up and fought voter suppression bills during the Texas legislative sessions of 2021. Emily is passionate about helping every voter cast a ballot that counts and about making the law understandable to people without law degrees.

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