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Rep. Joaquin Castro, and top Latinx leaders in Texas are fighting back against Gov. Abbott’s latest order. Photo: Dallas News
Rep. Joaquin Castro, and top Latinx leaders in Texas are fighting back against Gov. Abbott’s latest order. Photo: Dallas News

“Shameful” Voter suppression in Texas could decimate the Latinx vote

Gov. Abbott’s order is a thinly-veiled attempt to suppress votes in a tight election down the ballot.

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In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott and his colleagues are doing everything in their power to make it harder for the public to vote.

An order went into effect on Oct. 2, that each of the state’s counties can only provide one mail-in drop-off location for the November election, regardless of size or population.

It’s a proclamation that was quickly met with criticism. Abbott has attempted to justify the order by saying the measure preserves the integrity of the election, alleging the order serves to mitigate voter fraud.

But it clearly serves to target Democratic counties that have set up many locations where voters may drop-off their completed absentee ballots in person. And perhaps more pressing, to suppress the vote of counties that have the potential to flip. 

“The only thing [Greg Abbott] has been quick to close in this pandemic is your polling location. Shameful,” Rep. Joaquin Castro wrote in response.
 

He, and other prominent Latinx leaders in Texas have been on top of Abbott’s late and lenient efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. For months, leaders had implored that the governor adequately address a crisis in which Latinos have constituted 52% of COVID-19 deaths in the state.

Now Abbott’s new order will further put Latinos at at a disadvantage, as counties in Texas regardless of size are limited to just one drop off box for ballots, which is insane.

For instance, Harris County in Houston, a 1,777 square mile jurisdiction, had to close 11 out of 12 locations, with critics calling the suppression, “as subtle as a screen door on a submarine.”

But here is where things get ugly.

With a Hispanic population of over 1.7 million, Harris County trails only Los Angeles County with the largest Hispanic population in the nation, meaning a staggering number of Latino voters will find it increasingly difficult to cast their vote, and again, with a jurisdiction of over 1,700 miles, many will find it impossible.

“Harris County is bigger than the state of Rhode Island, and we're supposed to have 1 site? This isn't security, it's suppression. Mail ballot voters shouldn't have to drive 30 miles to drop off their ballot, or rely on a mail system that’s facing cutbacks,” wrote Judge Lina Hidalgo of Harris County.

Now the only ballot drop-off location in Houston is the NRG Arena, just south of the Astrodome. At first glance it appears to be situated in an accessible location— a large arena complete with parking, and a venue that may accommodate for social distancing amid a pandemic.

But the arena, located in the 77054 zip code, has only an 11.9% Hispanic or Latino population. 

Latinx individuals living in Houston neighborhoods of Magnolia Park (77012), Denver Harbor (77020), or Northside (77076) each have a Hispanic or Latinx population over 72%.

Magnolia Park, with a Hispanic or Latino population over 92%, is looking at a 20 minute drive across Houston— with good traffic– just to arrive at the drop-off ballot location. No car? You’re looking at a commute of over an hour.

The location of the single ballot-drop-off location puts those on the outskirts of Harris County at a disadvantage. It’s not a coincidence that many are largely Hispanic or Latino. And this is just one county in Texas.

Dallas County, Fort Worth, El Paso, and more are experiencing similar situations of blatant voter suppression and disenfranchisement of potential Latinx voters.

Hispanic and Latino population-wise, Dallas County has a 40.8% population, Fort Worth has a 36.1% population, and El Paso has a population of over 82%.

The updated 2020 Census will likely see an exponential increase in these figures.

Candace Valenzuela is the Democratic nominee running for Congress in Texas’ 24th district, which covers an area shared by Fort Worth and Dallas. 

She is running a historic race that could potentially flip her district blue, but Gov. Abbott’s order has the ability to suppress the growing Democratic population in her county, and the vote overall.

Valenzuela urged Texans to get registered to vote by the Oct. 5 deadline ahead of early voting starting the 13th.

“Sadly, this action is just the latest offense in Texas politicians’ efforts to disenfranchise people and make it harder to exercise our right to vote. Especially during a pandemic, we need leaders who will work to make voting easier, not harder. Today’s actions are a despicable attack on our democracy,” Valenzuela wrote.

Abbott, so far has failed to provide an adequate answer as to how allowing multiple drop-off locations might lead to fraud, because there isn’t an answer other than the obvious.

“Republicans are on the verge of losing, so Governor Abbott is trying to adjust the rules last minute,” Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement, adding “Make no mistake, Democracy itself is on the ballot.”

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