Texas bill used ‘purity of the ballot box’ language to claim it will protect voters’ rights

Texas bill used ‘purity of the ballot box’ language to claim it will protect voters’ rights

Apparently being racist and not knowing it is a common theme in many places, especially Texas. A Texas legislator and bill sponsor found out he was racist while explaining why specific language was used in a bill. The video of his reaction has since gone viral, prompting people to ponder whether he understood the history of the language he used.

The language in question was the phrase “preserve the purity of the ballot box.” This phrase, according to Democratic Rep. Rafael Anchía, was “drafted specifically to disenfranchise Black voters following the Civil War.” In comments on the floor, Anchía questioned bill sponsor Rep. Briscoe Cain’s knowledge of the Constitution and the history of the phrase with racist roots. The exchange began with Cain initially defending the term by referencing the state’s constitution, then realizing how racist he truly was.

“What was your motivation for using that term ‘purity at the ballot box’?” Anchía asked Cain, adding, “Did you look at the history before using that word?”

“No, no … I’m not familiar with … Article 6,” Cain said.

“Well, you may have missed it then,” Anchía continued. “And this would have been very obvious, I think, to anybody who looked at that language. That provision was drafted specifically to disenfranchise black people, black voters, following the Civil War. Did you know that?”

“No, that’s, I’m sorry to hear that,” Cain replied meekly.

“Are you familiar with white primaries? Have you read about those?” Anchía asked. 

“We’ve heard and read of such things. I’m glad that’s gone. That’s a disgusting thing,” Cain said.

That moment when he realizes he put a Jim Crow-era slogan in the bill he’s claiming isn’t voter suppression😬 pic.twitter.com/tg9ZHBxXcI

— More Than A Vote (@morethanavote) May 7, 2021

The back-and-forth continued with Anchía  asking Cain whether he realized the phrase ”‘purity at the ballot box ‘ … gave rise to all-white primaries” and was “used during the Jim Crow era to prevent black people from voting.”

“Did you know that in states across the country that penal disenfranchisement schemes were put in place including in Texas as far back as 1845 to effectively lock African American people out of the political process?” Anchía asked. “Are you aware of this political history?”

Cain admitted he did not know the history, but learning this was “troubling.” His defense was that he merely did not want “fraud” to occur and used the language intending to reference that.

Following Donald Trump’s loss in the presidential election, Republican legislators across the country have been working on bills that exclude more people from voting and make it more difficult for individuals to cast a ballot. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, since the beginning of April, 361 bills with restrictive provisions have been introduced in 47 states.

Before passing the bill that would restrict voting in the state, Texas officials removed the racist Jim Crow-era term. In addition to the language removal, 18 amendments including 13 from Democrats were added to the GOP bill before it was passed Friday.

The bill aims to restrict voters as it will increase regulations on voting by mail, create several new election-related crimes, and increase protections for poll watchers including prohibiting judges from removing party poll watchers from voting sites. Granting new powers to poll watchers could enable voter intimidation, especially among communities of color. The bill also suggests felony convictions for those who give a person a vote-by-mail application unless they requested one and has new rules on voter assistance which will impact people with felony charges, the elderly, the disabled, and non-English speakers.

Additionally, the bill will impact voting hours and limit the number of polling places allowed in Texas’ largest counties. The bill will clearly disproportionately affect Texans of color and sounds familiar to the Jim Crow laws that its language originally referenced. Under Jim Crow laws, “separate but equal” accommodations were provided to Black people, ultimately targeting them and blocking them from voting and other basic rights.

“As soon as Southern states were allowed to set their own democratic destiny, they began to limit who could vote, especially voters of color,” Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said according to the Houston Chronicle. “That includes African Americans, obviously, but also included Asian Americans and Hispanics as well. It was very broad.”

According to Anchía, the bill will shock residents and undermine their confidence in elections as opposed to countering voter fraud, the issue which GOP lawmakers claim they are addressing.

In response to the language used in the bill, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund Nina Perales told the Houston Chronicle that the words were telling of the Republican lawmakers’ intention.

“That is the language that’s always used and has been used historically in association with voter suppression measures,” she said. “It’s like a sign hanging on the bill saying, ‘This is a voter suppression bill.’ ”

Voter suppression is not a new trend in Texas. GOP officials in the state have consistently attempted to disqualify individuals from voting including, moves to “disqualify the Mexicans of the Western and Lower Rio Grande Counties,” The Washington Post reported. There is no doubt the language used in the bill symbolizes the intention it has when applied. Republican officials are clearly attempting to silence minority and marginalized community voters, and we can see right through it.

Despite the removal of language including “purity of the ballot,” the bill clearly intends to increase voter suppression. State legislators, including Rep. Ron Reynolds, have denounced it, calling the legislation “Jim Crow 2.0.”

“I know if you’re an American, you believe that voting is one of the most precious and fundamental rights that we have. … It is the bedrock of our democracy,” Reynolds said Friday. “And here we are in 2021 trying to turn back the clock.”

Since the bill has passed it will now go to a conference committee, where lawmakers will work to create a version of the bill accepted by both the House and Senate.

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