Throughout its colorful history, Texas has been a melting pot of people that originate from a wide range of nations, ethnic groups, and with different racial backgrounds. The result has been that there has been tremendous diversity throughout its history, which would ideally establish a tolerant and welcoming environment where all people are considered neighbors with equal status and rights. Unfortunately, however, Texas has from its beginning demonstrated a continual tendency to disenfranchise certain groups, in particular people of color;; throughout its history, it has engaged in a wide range of creative methods all designed to prevent people from voting. This paper will discuss election laws in Texas, dating from the 19th century until present day, when the idea of voter ID laws has been the most recent evidence of the state’s history of discrimination regarding voting rights.
Texas has a long history of voter disenfranchisement, beginning with voter intimidation directed towards African-Americans starting in 1865. When emancipation occurred, black people in Texas were denied the right to vote on a regular basis, through the use of intimidation as well as violence (Eichelberger, 2016.) In the most extreme cases, lynching was a means by which African-Americans were prevented from exercising their right to vote. Further, in 1895 the beginning of all white primaries became the norm in Texas. In addition, in the middle of the 1890s, legislators in Texas passed a law that required political parties to hold primaries as well as permitting those institutions to establish racist qualifications to decide who would be able to participate.
The poll tax became law in 1902, when the Texas legislature amended their Constitution to require voters to pay money in order to register to vote as well is to present a receipt for payment in order to exercise their voting rights. The poll tax was established as essentially equal to most of the day’s pay for many African American and Mexican workers, approximately $15.48 by the standards of 2016 economics. Texas formalized the all-white primary system in 1905, passing the Terrell Election Law that made official the all-white primary system, which encouraged both main political parties and county election officials to adopt boating restrictions that specifically prevented minorities from voting in primaries (Texas State Historical Society, 2010.) The purpose of this law was allegedly to prevent voter fraud.
Texas continued its attempts to suppress the vote from certain minority groups by passing an anti-immigration law relating to voting in 1918. This legislation banned interpreters at the polls and for bid naturalized citizens from receiving assistance from election judges until they had been citizens for 21 years. Voting restrictions were not necessarily accepted easily by people of color, when for example in 1918, black voters in Texas were successful in challenging the all-white primary system in Waco. The legislature was able to overcome this snag by passing a law that banned all African-Americans from voting in Democratic primaries. Since the Democratic Party was dominant in the South in those days, the person who was selected in the primary was inevitably the victor of the election. Primary voters had to demonstrate that they were white and they were Democrats.
Texas tried over and over again to enforce the all white primaries, but eventually the Supreme Court struck down these practices in 1932. The Democrats responded by adopting a rule that kept people of color out of primaries, and initially, the Supreme Court upheld this system. Eventually, in 1944, the High Court overturned this system. In the meantime, the poll tax continued, and during the civil rights era Texans again rejected a constitutional amendment that would have put an end to it. Until 1966, the poll tax remain the law of the land and research has demonstrated that it significantly suppressed minority voter turnout until approximately 1980.
In 1964, the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, prohibiting payment of poll taxes in order to vote in any federal election. It was not until 1965, however, that a massive effort by the federal government to guarantee voting rights was passed, when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 Was Signed into Law by Pres. Lyndon Johnson. This implemented the promise of the 15th amendment to the Constitution that voting rights could not be denied or abridged on the basis of color, race, or previous condition of servitude (League Of Women Voters in Texas,, 2013.)
In 2011, Texas began its most recent and extreme efforts to suppress voting rights during modern times. The state passed the Voter ID Law which mandated that anyone turning up at the polls had to provide certain pieces of ID in order to be allowed to vote. The forms of ID that were required were unavailable to large segments of the minority population, such as a passport, a military ID, a driver’s license, and a certificate of citizenship(Conference of State Legislatures, 2016.) These restrictions excluded large swaths of the population who had no access to these forms of IDs, either because of financial limitations, lack of transportation, and an intimidation factor that was reminiscent of the days of poll taxes and literacy tests.
An ironic twist occurred when former Texas politician Jim Wright was unable to obtain a voter ID that was required to vote in his state (Simpson, 2013.)
Much to the chagrin of many lawmakers in Texas, the Texas voter ID law was struck down in July, 2016, by a federal appeals court. The law was rejected on the basis that it discriminated against minorities, which had been the main criticism of that law and all of the others passed across the country in an effort to suppress minority vote. For the present, these practices are clearly considered to be illegal, but undoubtedly there has been a great deal of motivation to prevent people of color from voting in Texas, and it is extremely likely that other attempts to disenfranchise minorities will continue.
- Eichelberger, E. (2014, October 24). Texas just won the right to disenfranchise 600,000 people. It’s not the first time. Retrieved from Mother Jones.com: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/supreme-court-texas-voter-id-law-history
- Fessler, P. (2016, July 21). Federal appeals court strikes down Texas voter ID law. Retrieved from NPR.org: id/http://www.npr.org/2016/07/21/486854387/appeals-court-strikes-down-texas-voter-id-law
- League Of Women Voters in Texas. (2013). History of voting and elections in Texas. Retrieved from League Of Women Voters of Texas: http://www.lwvtexas.org/voting_election_issues.html
- National Conference of State Legislatures. (2016, August 31). Voter Identification Requirements/Voter ID. Retrieved from NCSL.org: http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/voter-id.aspx#Details
- Simpson, C. (2013, November). Texas’ strict voter ID law catches Former Speaker Jim Wright. Retrieved from The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/11/texas-strict-voter-id-law-catches-former-speaker-jim-wright/354727/
- Texas State Historical Society. (2010, June 12). Election laws. Retrieved from Texas State Historical Society.org : https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/wde01https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/wde01