Attorney General Abbott is wrong on voting

Posted Thursday, Aug. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s assertion (See “Abbott: Obama puts Texas elections under his thumb” July 31) that voting practices and redistricting in Texas are more about national politics than constitutional rights is patently false and in direct contradiction to the history of racial politics in the Lone Star State.

Texas has a long and painful history of voter discrimination and intimidation. Its governor during Reconstruction, James Throckmorton, refused to recognize the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which granted citizenship and equal protection to African-Americans. When Throckmorton was ordered to provide more protection for minorities who were being physically threatened, he refused and was removed from office by the federal government.

Jim Crow laws, literacy tests and poll taxes have been used throughout the state's history to restrict minority voter participation. I had to pay a poll tax in the first election that I participated in as a voter.

I clearly recall an incident in Dallas when white picketers, politicians among them, appeared outside a predominately black voting site on election day, holding signs stating “Stop! Vote and you will be prosecuted!”

I recognized one of the politicians. Years later when he appeared before a panel I chaired in the Legislature, I reminded him of the incident. Uncomfortable and ashamed, he said he knew he was wrong and apologized for the incident.

In the decade between 2000 and 2010, the population of Texas increased by 4.3 million people. Two-thirds of the growth occurred in the Hispanic community, while the black population increased by 11 percent.

Even so, the Republican-controlled Legislature gerrymandered districts such that the number of congressional seats in which a minority stood a chance of being elected declined from 11 to 10.

The African-American and Hispanic populations increased in the Dallas-Fort Worth area by more than 600,000 between 2000 and 2010 while the non-Hispanic white population decreased by 156,732.

This minority population increase justified two new minority opportunity districts, but the congressional map signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry “packs” my congressional district with the largest percentage of African American and Hispanic constituents I have witnessed in my 21 years as a member of the House of Representatives.

Congressional districts that surround my own were drawn to “crack,” or divide between districts, minority voters in North Texas.

Blatant “packing” and “cracking” by the Legislature prevented the North Texas area from having the two additional minority opportunity seats in Congress that the population growth justifies and the people deserve.

The Supreme Court and two federal courts have disagreed with the actions of Texas legislators. The federal courts found the Legislature’s redistricting plan and voter ID law unconstitutional.

The Justice Department found that the Legislature’s actions violated the Voting Rights Act.

Abbott wrote that four Hispanic legislators lost their seats because of federally mandated new redistricting lines. Those legislators were not the choice of Hispanic voters and did not receive a majority of those votes. They were obligated to Republicans who had put them in office.

Abbott advocates the use of voter ID laws, allegedly to stop voter fraud. Studies have shown that voter fraud is non-existent in Texas.

Nearly 700,000 registered voters in Texas lack an approved voter ID. The requirement is another way of repressing votes of young people, seniors and racial minorities who vote overwhelmingly for Texas Democrats.

During the civil rights struggle of the late 1950s and the 1960s, hundreds and perhaps thousands of people across this country lost their lives so they and their children and grandchildren could freely participate in our political system.

Many faced vicious dogs and water hoses for a right that came without difficulty or turmoil to others.

Perhaps Abbott should revisit that history and speak to those who endured the burdens and pains of acquiring rights that others possessed.

In this country, we pride ourselves on our unique approach to democracy.

Every citizen should have the ability to participate in elections fairly and transparently, without unnecessary burdens.

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson represents the 30th Congressional District of Texas, representing most of southern Dallas County.

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