Restrictive Senate Bill 1 guidelines prompt activists to improve Texas voter turnout in primary elections

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — Corisha Rogers grew up in the Third Ward neighborhood of Houston, experiencing the effects of poverty firsthand. Rogers said that’s what sparked his passion for politics and civic engagement.

“I wanted better for my community. I wanted better for my family. I feel like we’re one small voice in such a big picture. We don’t have much to say,” Rogers said. “One thing I’ve learned is the power of being active, going to community hearings, city council or commissioners meetings, and understanding who is responsible for change or lack of change. .”

Rogers works with Texas Rising, a youth-led electoral activism and civic engagement organization, as the Houston Regional Coordinator. They are present on more than 20 different college and university campuses across the state. According to them websitepeople under the age of 30 now make up 43% of the state’s population and soon will make up one-third of eligible voters.

“I think one of the strongest things anyone can do is hold their elected leaders accountable,” Rogers said.

In August, Rogers joined his organization to testify against Senate Bill 1 at the Texas State Capitol, which Republican lawmakers say helps prevent voter fraud. But, Rogers argued that the new legislation has a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities. His mother, who lives with a disability, relies on postal voting.

“We are afraid that his ballot will be rejected because of the new laws in place. It just forces people to go through a lot more hurdles in the current era to vote, and voting should be something easier for people. people,” Rogers says.

“We’re starting to take steps back. In Harris County, we made drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting available, which was great for people who needed options,” a- she added. “Like the person who works in a cemetery or the person at risk of COVID. But now that option is no longer available.”

WATCH: Missouri City voter says it took 3 tries to register to vote

Someone who has already run into hurdles under SB 1’s new voting guidelines is Missouri City resident Pam Gaskin. Gaskin calls herself a “super voter,” making sure to vote every election cycle, even if there is only one person on the ballot.

“Voting is the first right of citizenship. Your ability to vote marks you as a certified, bona fide participant in American democracy, and there’s no better feeling than that,” Gaskin said. “On Election Day, we’re all equal. Bill Gates gets the same vote as little old Pam Gaskin here in Missouri City. That’s why it means so much to me. Our bank accounts don’t matter. Our status in life doesn’t matter.”

During Black History Month, she reflected on how difficult it was for her parents to vote before the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. This happened just two weeks after she began dating the ‘University of Texas.

“Black people in Texas couldn’t vote unless they paid poll tax, which was a financial burden. My dad and mom paid poll tax. They paid it for other people too,” Gaskin said. “My parents were activists. So they took us to the polls with them every time they voted. I started volunteering to help people register to vote when I was 18, 19, 20 .”

But this time, she said it took her three tries to get her voter registration approved. She submitted the first form on Jan. 3, but said it was rejected because Fort Bend County had not released the new form from the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

After getting the correct form, she tried a second time. But, a county employee told her she was rejected again. They cited a discrepancy between the provision of his driver’s license number and his Social Security number that was on file under his voter profile.

Gaskin tried a third time and filled in all the form fields, even though it was not required. She and her husband finally got their ballots on Jan. 31, but Gaskin expressed frustration with the new process. She called the new legislation a way to remove voters from marginalized communities, citing no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Texas.

“I believe Texas lawmakers did it intentionally,” Gaskin said. “If I could talk to these lawmakers, I would say, ‘You’re trying to select your voters and you’re not allowing voters to select you. That’s wrong,” Gaskin said. “Voting is about power. They see America browning and they see power being taken away from them.”

She said her biggest concern is for disadvantaged Texans who may be discouraged from voting.

“Think of those who are over 65. Someone who wakes up with arthritis pain or the person living in the nursing home, who may be physically confined. They get a rejection letter and maybe it’s too much for them, so they’re not voting,” Gaskin said.

Gaskin encourages disenfranchised voters to seek help from organizations like the League of Women Voters, of which she is a member, and do whatever it takes to get their ballot counted.

“Never let them get to you. Just hang on. Fill out the next piece of paper. Don’t give up, because that’s what they want you to do,” Gaskin said.

Despite Texas Rising’s defeat in the legislature last year, Rogers said it was “time to go” with early voting underway for the Texas primary election. They are focused on getting as many Texans to vote as possible. She said they would return to Austin in 2023.

“So many people have lived and died to give you the opportunity to vote. I really want to encourage you to use it because you matter. You matter and your voice needs to be heard,” Rogers said. “We’ll also be on Capitol Hill next year fighting for this issue. I’m sure that won’t be the end of it.”

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Norman D. Briggs