The Texas Attorney General’s office, in response to a complaint concerning a non-profit group that was attempting to increase voter registration among the poor, seized the non-profit’s computers and equipment, bankrupted the organization, and then obtained a court order to destroy the equipment without returning it to its owner.
This story (which comes from a link to an August 30th story in the Dallas Morning News, linked by and commented on by Charles Kuffner), is one that deserves much wider scrutiny, for obvious reasons. The office that is presided over by a gubernatorial candidate used a criminal complaint to destroy a voter registration drive, and did it in a county that has become ground zero for the kind of brass-knuckled voter suppression tactics that would have made the ward heelers of Tammany Hall proud.
I’m going to be writing more about this, but I bring the story up in a brief post because I think it’s important (as the Texas voter I.D. trial grinds along) to remember that the 2011 voter I.D. law is just one important piece of a much broader coordinated package of state laws enacted in 2009, 2011, and 2013 that limit suffrage. Voter I.D. has high visibility right now, but the authors of the anti-voting laws (whose most notable or dubious achievements came in 2011), had no intention of putting all their voter suppression eggs in one basket.
Anti-voting laws, when taken in aggregate, have the following important components:
1. Amendments to existing laws that criminalize innocuous and previously legal acts incidental to voter registration drives or the voting process;
2. New laws that disfavor the presumption that voters are eligible to vote; and
3. Novel interpretations of existing criminal laws (including non-election-related laws), used to prohibit or substantially limit get-out-the-vote campaigns, election turnout and voter outreach.
At least some of these features were present in a 2009 model bill authored by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) entitled the “Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act,” which provided a template for laws requiring additional proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, and in an older model bill from 2001 (the “Personal Information Security Act”) that criminalized the possession of certain personal identifying information (including the kind of information that would be aggregated in public documents such as voter registration records, although such records weren’t specifically cited in the model bill).
To take in the full scope of changes to voting laws since 2000, one must consider not only the polarizing effects of the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential election and the fallout from that election, but also the galvanizing effect that the 2008 McCain-Obama presidential election had on conservative groups, who reacted by targeting non-profit voter registration groups for destruction, in addition to a suite of traditional responses to political defeat such as voter list purges, voter eligibility challenges, and limitations on access to the polls.
In a future post, I’ll take a look at what I call the “anti-ACORN” laws found in Chapters 13 and 18 of the Texas Election Code, and in particular, at the laws which formed the basis of the complaint filed against Houston Votes.
For those of you using web readers, the links referenced here are:
Annotated copies of the “Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act,” the model voter I.D. law, and the “Personal Information Security Act” are no longer provided through the website of the American Legislative Exchange Council, but can be found at the website for the Center for Media and Democracy’s ALEC Exposed project: