Texas Democrats Strike Jim Crow 'Purity of Ballot Box' Language from GOP Voting Bill

After their party’s 2020 presidential election loss, Republican-led legislatures across the country are scrambling to exclude more people from voting and make it more difficult to cast a ballot. In Texas, conservatives have been pushing a voting bill that included language from the state’s constitution that was used to justify disenfranchising the state’s Black voters, until a Democrat pointed out the wording’s racist roots, and the language was removed.

“What was your motivation for using that term ‘purity at the ballot box’?” Democratic Rep. Rafael Anchía asked the bill’s sponsor and author, Republican Rep. Briscoe Cain, adding, “Did you look at the history before using that word?” 

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

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“Well, you may have missed it then,” Anchía responded. “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.

Anchía went on to ask Cain whether he realized that the language ” ‘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 said he did not know the history but that he found it “troubling.”

Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told the Houston Chronicle that Republicans writing those words into the bill is telling. “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.’ ”

Anchía’s questioning continued for another 15 minutes where he repeatedly exposed Cain’s lack of historical research and professed lack of awareness. The language was ultimately stricken from the bill, which moved forward on Friday following a party-line vote. As Rep. Jarvis Johnson, the Democrat who introduced the amendment to remove the purity language, told the Chronicle, “the damage has been done.” He added, “If you’re going to hide behind ignorance, you don’t need to be in the statehouse.”

Provisions in the version of the bill passed by the Texas House would restrict voting in the state. The bill would ban election officials from distributing unsolicited absentee ballot applications and would let party poll workers record those they think are violating election law. It also would categorize ballot harvesting as a Class A misdemeanor and prohibit judges from removing party poll watchers from voting sites. The bill now returns to the state senate.

Texas is far from the only state considering restrictive voting measures. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as of the beginning of April, 361 bills with restrictive provisions have been introduced in 47 states.

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