Representative Sheila Jackson Lee

Representing the 18th District of TEXAS

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee Calls on Harris County Officials and the Texas Secretary of State to Address Voting Irregularities and Ensure that All Who Can Vote Do Vote and All in Line to Vote be Permitted to do so

Nov 6, 2018
Press Release

PRESS STATEMENT HEADER

For Immediate Release                                                         Contact: Robin Chand

November 6, 2018                                                                                (202) 225–3816

 

Press Statement

 

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee Calls on Harris County Officials and the Texas Secretary of State to Address Voting Irregularities and Ensure that All Who Can Vote Do Vote and All in Line to Vote be Permitted to do so

Jackson Lee—“There are long lines at polling places throughout Harris County, which are being met with indifference and hostility from some voting officials.  This conduct must stop immediately because it sends the message that their vote is not important.  This is not consistent with the message that ‘every vote counts.’”

Washington, D.C. - Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a Senior Member of the House Committees on Judiciary, Homeland Security, and Budget, and the Ranking Member on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism Homeland Security and Investigations, following reports of difficulties in exercising the right to vote:

“Elections are a time for the country’s elected officials to hear from their constituents to ensure they serve with the consent of the governed.  This year’s contest is especially critical, as it is the first nationwide election following the 2016 election and thus provides the first opportunity to pass judgment on this president and the polices he has wrought.  Yet, the exercise of the franchise is being met in Houston and throughout Texas with ploys that harken back to a different, yet familiar time.  In Harris County, prior to the start of early voting, voter suppression was alive and well, too, but came disguised as good government, when it was anything but.  A dubious provision of the Texas Election Code resulted in residents receiving letters notifying them of the cancellations of their registration to vote in Harris County.  According to one Houston voter who received a notice indicating her voter registration had been cancelled, ‘this [was] voter suppression at its [worst].’  This is especially true when considering that it had been determined that all 735 voters who received these notices in Harris County were cleared to vote.

“This morning, when Election Day dawned on Houston and the whole nation, problems about the franchise lingered.  As the most anticipated midterm election in a generation takes place, voters in our state, and specifically residents in Harris County, continue to experience difficulties and irregularities in voting.  In Harris County’s precinct 1012, a voter complained of racial profiling and behavior consistent with racial stereotyping. To add insult to injury, the voter was told that she would have a better time understanding voting directions if the official were in “blackface.”  In Harris County’s precinct 576, two of three electronic voting machines are believed to be inoperable, exacerbating delays and waits in voting.  At the Bayland Community Center in Houston, long lines test the patience of scores of voters waiting to cast their ballot.  This conduct must stop immediately because it sends the message that their vote is not important.  This is not consistent with the message that “every vote counts.”

“By just before Noon today, a national hotline has fielded 10,000 calls from across the nation, including: polling sites which did not open on time, inoperable machines, and very long wait times.  These complaints came from many states in different regions of the country, including states with hotly contested gubernatorial contests, like Georgia.  In the Peach State, there have been widespread reports of “voting machines going down in large numbers throughout the state.  Undoubtedly, the issues surrounding facilitating ready access to the polls has been undermined by the Supreme Court’s decision five years ago in Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. ___ (2013), which neutered the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and after which voter suppression has been rampant.  It has taken many forms, from curtailing early voting to limiting the forms of acceptable voter IDs to purging voters from the voting rolls. Voter suppression is real; it is powerful; it is rampant. It is intended to deprive communities of color, especially African Americans and Hispanics, of their right to vote.  

“When it gutted the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court gave assurances that despite its ruling, there would remain legal provisions to safeguard the voting rights of minority voters.   The practical effect of the Shelby decision has been to countenance states and other jurisdictions throughout the country by passing legislation designed to make it decidedly more difficult for communities of color and young people to cast ballots.  Another recent voting rights case also adds to the concern about voter suppression.  In Abbot v Perez, 581 U.S. ___ (2018), in a case decided exactly five years after Shelby and that concerned the manner in which the state of Texas draws its legislative districts, the Supreme Court hollowed its assurance from Shelby.    In Abbott, the Court indicated that challengers to drawn districts had not sufficiently proven racial discrimination, despite the fact that at least three courts had ruled these districts, substantially similar to those upheld in June, were discriminatory.  In this respect, Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent that Abbot did “great damage to [the] right of equal opportunity.  Not because it denies the existence of that right, but because it refuses its protection” is especially relevant.  As my colleague civil rights icon John Lewis has said: ‘the vote is precious.  It is almost sacred.  It’s the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society and we’ve got to use it.’

“The consent of the governed is an essential component of civil society.  Yet even in our great nation—the oldest democracy the world has ever known—we struggle to live up to this ideal. This dynamic is yet another reason why it is important for voters to have unfettered right to choose representatives who will safeguard our democracy, and ensure that all who are eligible to vote can exercise their rights.  This includes reauthorizing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to ensure that attempts to impede the right to vote in areas all too familiar with discrimination are circumscribed by federal legislation designed to ensure that the changes are not driven by animus or that they do not result in undue suppression.  In the meanwhile, all who can vote and are trying to vote, should be permitted to do so and state and local officials should, if circumstances warrant, extend voting hours to ensure that the voice of all the people is heard.”

 

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Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat representing the 18th Congressional District of Texas, is a senior member of the House Committees on Judiciary, Homeland Security and the Budget. She is a Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.