By Roy Maynard
To lead off its editorial railing against Senate Bill 7 and efforts to reform—or at least regularize—the rules for voting in Texas, the Houston Chronicle evokes the White Man’s Primary Association of Dimmit County. But like the editorial itself, there’s far less here than meets the eye.
It’s true that in tiny Dimmit County in South Texas, white Democrats established white-only primaries and sought other ways to disenfranchise newly freed Blacks. But what’s the link between that practice (struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Smith v. Allwright in 1944) and current efforts to ensure free and fair election in Texas? There isn’t one.
It’s a simple association fallacy; the Chronicle argues that because they both cite voter fraud, lawmakers today looking to clean up voting rolls and rules must be “protégés” of the Dimmit County dimwits of the 1880s.
Editorial space is precious, and you don’t spend the first 100 words of it raving about 19th Century Dimmit County when you have something substantive to say about today’s Texas. But having nothing to say rarely stops anyone. So let’s look at the Chronicle’s claims, point-by-point.
First: “Courts have repeatedly debunked the notion of widespread voter fraud…”
The key word in here is “widespread.” Of course voter fraud exists. The Chronicle admits as much in this very editorial, citing Lyndon Johnson’s 1948 Senate election. That fraud was certainly not widespread; it was one voting box in Jim Wells County, with just 202 votes.
Yet that single act of fraud changed history. Johnson made the most of his Senate win, and by the time a young and untried John F. Kennedy sought the presidency, he needed a powerful southerner like Johnson on his ticket. When Kennedy was gunned down, Johnson took the helm of the most powerful nation in the world—and soon began sending American troops into Vietnam.
“Not widespread” doesn’t mean insignificant. And the fact is that a single instance of voter fraud silences the voice of a legitimate Texas voter.
Still, have courts truly debunked the notion of widespread voter fraud? That’s a trick question; courts don’t work that way. Courts rule on fact and cases, and in many, many instances, courts have ruled that voter fraud was egregious enough to overturn elections.
Perhaps that’s why the Chronicle fails to provide any support for that claim.
Next, this doozy:
“For ruling conservatives in this state — first white Democrats, now white Republicans — ‘voter fraud’ is the trusty password that unlocks an arsenal of underhanded, often unconstitutional, tricks to retain political power and keep it out of the hands of those deemed undeserving of a voice and unqualified for a role in governing. Namely, Black and brown folks.”
The Chronicle unashamedly declares that every Republican—including James White, a Black Republican from East Texas—is a racist seeking to silence the “undeserving.” Instead of addressing the facts at hand—we face a crisis of confidence in our elections system, which goes beyond party lines—the Chronicle simply shouts “racism.” That’s not an argument worthy of an editorial; it’s the kind of irresponsible personal attack that destroys dialogue.
As a former editorial page editor and editorial writer (and board member of the industry group, the Association of Opinion Journalists), I’m deeply disappointed in the tone of the Chronicle’s editorial. Our goal should always be to hash out our differences without resorting to name-calling, personal attacks or overstatement. We can make our case without making enemies.
But let’s address that “unconstitutional” claim; does Senate Bill 7 do anything unconstitutional? On the contrary; by banning “practices as voting after 9 p.m., drive-thru voting, and dropping off an absentee ballot in a secure drop box,” as the Chronicle put it, SB 7 is simply reminding Texas counties (such as Harris, where Houston is located) that according to the U.S. Constitution, the “time, place and manner” of elections is to be determined by the Legislature—not county officials.
If the Chronicle wants drive-through voting and drop-boxes, it should find a willing legislator and get a bill passed. It’s that simple.
The Chronicle also cites a “chilling exchange” about the “stated rationale” of Texas voter ID law in a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2016. Yet the Chronicle fails to mention that in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled ID requirements for voting to be constitutional (Crawford v. Marion County Election Board) and ruled that obtaining a government ID is not overly burdensome.
The Chronicle concludes, “Republican leaders pushing the restrictions accuse critics of ‘race-baiting’ and insist their efforts are about securing elections. Sure they are: securing elections for themselves.”
But the Chronicle will find that its readers don’t agree. In fact, there’s widespread support of voter ID laws among Americans.
“A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 75% of Likely U.S. Voters believe voters should be required to show photo identification such as a driver’s license before being allowed to vote,” Rasmussen says. “Only 21% are opposed to such a requirement.”
That includes 69% of blacks and 82% of other minorities.
And new polling from the Dallas Morning News shows that “60% of voters support additional requirements beyond signature verification to increase “election integrity,” while only 18% thought additional requirements are unnecessary.”
In short, people support securing our elections, no one thinks voter ID is racist, and there is no evidence of voter suppression—just the opposite.
Free and fair elections are vital to the future of Texas. They’re worth securing—even at the cost of incurring the wrath of the Houston Chronicle.
Roy Maynard is senior writer for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and has spent 30 years as a journalist.