More than 18,000 voters in Texas’ most populous counties had their mail-in ballots rejected in the state’s primary election this month… a surge in thrown-out votes that disproportionately affected Black people in the state’s largest county and revealed the impact of new voting regulations passed by Republicans last year. In Harris County, which includes Houston and is the state’s most populous county, areas with large Black populations were 44 percent more likely to have ballots rejected than heavily white areas…The analysis also found that Black residents made up the largest racial group in six of the nine ZIP codes with the most ballot rejections in the county.
The Times concludes that the ballot rejections and the racial disparity in those rejections provide “the clearest evidence yet that the major voting law passed last year by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature has prevented significant numbers of people from voting.” Is that a fair analysis? Doesn’t it matter why the disparity occurred?
In the Times piece, that question, which I would rank as indispensable to answering the basic ethics question “What’s going on here?” to begin the quest for a solution, is never asked, answered, or even speculated upon. “We have concrete evidence of the impact that it is having on primarily people of color,” Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston,who is black, said in an interview. “People’s right to vote is being taken away. It’s almost like the 21st-century version of the poll tax, so to speak, when they were asked, ‘How many bubbles are in this bar of soap?’”
That’s some analogy you got there, Mayor. First of all, you are alluding to voter literacy tests, not poll taxes. With poll taxes, there was discrimination on the basis of the ability to pay. “How many bubbles are in this bar of soap?” is obviously an impossible question designed to illegally exclude voters. What is the similarly impossible requirement that black voters found so difficult to comply with in the Texas primaries? We are told,“The vast majority of ballots were rejected because of rules set last year that required voters to provide their driver’s license number or partial Social Security number. Many either did not fill out the section on their ballot that asked for the identification number or had a different ID on file with election officials, and their ballot was rejected.”
Does that strike you as an unreasonable condition for allowing someone to register a vote without appearing in person at a polling place? It isn’t, you know. The logic here, as in cases of the majority of “disparate impact” arguments, is an obvious diversion designed to avoid thinking about and certainly from constructively dealing with a problem very different from “voter suppression.”
Texas, quite properly, grants voters a limited window of time to address problems with their ballots, but more than 18,000 were never fixed. Voters could take their rejected ballots, if they received them in time, to a polling place to vote in person; it they couldn’t be bothered, that too is being called “voter suppression.” The Times, predictably, is happy to jump on the “racism” and voter suppression bandwagons, as absurd as they are. There is no way for the ballots of a particular party or race to trigger rejection, but still the Times writes that the sharp rise in ballot rejections suggests that the state’s overhauled electoral process has “confused thousands of voters and threatened to disenfranchise thousands more…most of them black.”
Wow, that requirement of writing in your driver’s license number or partial Social Security number to ensure that you are the citizen you claim to be is a real puzzler—almost like having to know how many bubbles there are in a bar of soap!
There may be valid and ethical reasons to change laws, qualifications and policies that seem to be disproportionately disadvantageous to a particular group or race. Maybe if I think about it for a week or so, I’ll come up with a couple. Not writing down personal ID numbers, though, and not standardized tests, where no research has uncovered any reason for the racial disparity in scores.
Never mind, though: the consensus is that this anomaly makes the tests racist per se, so the tests are increasingly being phased out. So are the academic standards for elite schools at all levels. Bar exams are under attack: blacks don’t pass at the same rates as whites, so obviously it’s the tests’ fault. There are too many examples of this phenomenon to list, and now we have the related theory that if a disproportionate number of black citizens can’t figure out how to vote by mail when the requirements should be a breeze for a relatively competent 12-year-old, sinister voter suppression must be afoot.
This is such a lazy, facile and destructive response, as well as one inherently insulting to blacks. Discussing the standardized test issue in the same Times edition that provided the soap bubble analogy, John MacWhorter writes,
I find myself thinking about …how we’ve allowed ourselves to all but give up on the idea that many Black and Latino students, as well as Pacific Islander and Native American students, can compete….I think of this kind of thing in reference to altering standards of evaluation so that Black and Latino students are represented proportionally in various institutions. These days, one is to think of this sort of thing as equity…. throughout society, we must force at least the superficial justice of equity in sheer percentages.
But too often, the message being communicated to Black and Latino people is that our presence is what matters, not our performance….
According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, around 1,800 colleges and universities will not require high school graduates “applying to start classes in fall 2022 to submit ACT/SAT results,” with a list that includes not only U.N.C. and Harvard but also other prestigious public and private institutions, including the University of California, the University of Texas, Yale University and Princeton University. …This impulse is based on an assumption that because Black, Latino, Pacific Islander, American Indian and Alaska Native kids, on average, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, don’t perform as well on these tests as their white and Asian peers, the tests must be, in some way, racially biased. But what, really, does that mean? Is it that the tests ask racially biased questions? Which ones? Is it that it is somehow unfair to give a Black or Latino student a test of abstract cognitive skill and that Black and Latino students should be tested differently? This would seem dangerously close to saying that they aren’t as intelligent as others. If that isn’t the intention, then is the inference that there is something cultural, broadly speaking, that hinders their ability to perform well on these tests? If so, what?
Good question, and so is “Why do so many black voters have trouble with the simple requirement of writing down an ID number on a mail-in ballot?” It seems indisputable that solving that mystery and rectifying the problem makes far more sense than making the voting process so loose that it has no integrity and engenders public distrust.