The year is 2022, and two years have passed since President Donald Trump lost his bid for re-election. Across the country, Republicans at all levels of the political totem pole have adamantly embraced the idea that president Joe Biden was wrongly appointed to office; and they also successfully coordinated a disinformation campaign regarding the events of January 6, 2021.
Since then, Republicans have continued sowing doubt into the United State’s electoral integrity, especially in highly contested regions with slim margins and significant demographic changes continuing. The current spotlight is on states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Nevada; the locations where Republicans unsuccessfully attempted to overturn the 2020 election results. Here, the political climate is ripe for the taking, and Republicans are moving quickly to set themselves up for future successes.
In their latest move of stealth authoritarianism, 2021 saw Republicans throughout the country introduce 425 bills at the state level. Today’s focus is on Texas and the consequences of its latest voting bill. For context, Texas is the second-largest and fastest-growing state in the US. Between 2019 and 2020 Texas accounted for 32.4% of the total US population growth; with its two largest metro areas, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, receiving the most growth. This new growth has brought in demographic shifts, with nearly a million former California residents moving to Texas, fears of the state one day turning blue on the electoral map have grown. Which spurred the slogan “Don’t California my Texas” adopted by the state’s governor. Texas becoming more Democratic appears inevitable if it continues on its current projections. In 2018, Texas got close to electing a Democrat, Beto O’Rourke, to replace the Republican incumbent, Ted Cruz, in the US Senate race. While he lost by 200,000 votes four years ago, O’Rourke is now in the 2022 race for state governor, destined to lose once again but this time by even smaller margins.
However, this momentum to turning Texas blue is under attack. In 2021 Texas Republicans enacted S.B.1, a bill disguised as an effort to make the state’s elections more secure, but in reality, it only increases restrictions placed on voters. These new restrictions provide more leeway for voting officials to reject ballots, especially with the increased identification requirements for mail-in-ballots and applications. The bill also directly limits the voting hours, making them the same regardless of county size, and actively discourages voting volunteers by creating new penalties. This section of the bill appears to be in direct response to the state’s most populous county, Harris, which provided 7 early voting centers available 24 hours for a day during the 2020 elections.
Currently, the actions taken by Republicans are legal and gradual enough that not enough alarm is being taken. This past March primary in Texas finally showed these new restrictions in action; Harris County saw 16 percent of its applications to vote by mail rejected. What does this mean for the 17 million voters in Texas? Their state legislatures have created new ways to deny their right to vote and there is no question about their motive. It starts with rejecting ballots, a deadly start when in tandem with continued gerrymandering and the placements of Trump loyalists in Secretary of State and Judicial positions. The larger issue is countrywide, not isolated to Texas, these voting laws are sneaking their way into state legislatures before our very eyes.
For now, our political system remains in a constant state of tug of war. The 2024 election cycle is looking to be every bit as intense as 2020, except now, Republican leaders across the country are better prepared and have carved the law in their favor. While there are litigation efforts challenging these changes, this erosion of core democratic principles continues to be legal in the meantime. The institutions once thought to be reliable checks and balances are now finding themselves to be eroding from the inside out. The best action Democrats could take to oppose this democratic erosion would be successfully passing the H.R.1 For the People Act of 2021, but this appears to be more of a pipe dream than a reality. Successfully opposing this democratic erosion is key to maintaining democracy, but for now, the stealth authoritarianism of Republicans is clearly working. Soon enough it may be impossible to undo.