If we were to be perfectly honest with each other, which we never will be, we would agree on a few things about voting in Texas and in Dallas. Rich white Republicans would prefer to see fewer, rather than more middle class and poor nonwhite Democrats show up at the polls.
I mean, c’mon. We all know that. And we know that an overwhelmingly Republican state government in the last 30 years has employed tricks, ruses and outright suppression to achieve that end, especially by opposing online voter registration.
But here’s the thing. None of that excuses Democrats from their obligation to turn out their own damn vote and get it voted. By voted I mean only waiting in line a reasonable amount of time, clicking the ballot, getting the vote recorded.
The Super Tuesday performance was terrible and terrible in a way that especially penalized the black and Hispanic precincts of West Dallas and southern Dallas — solid blue Democratic territory. Much of what went wrong could have been cured with a little bit of good old-fashioned United Auto Workers-style hustle and bustle.
Dallas County was one of eight Texas counties last year that switched to a new “vote anywhere” system, abandoning the old architecture of assigned precincts. The change was supposed to make voting easier.
But the old system acted as a crowd management mechanism, subdividing a sea of voters into discrete pools that could be anticipated with an appropriate number of machines and personnel at each voting location. By changing to vote-anywhere, the county lost its ability to manage crowd sizes at individual locations.
The county knew all of that ahead of time and tried to compensate by setting up an online warning system to inform voters which voting locations were experiencing long lines and which ones were open. It didn’t work, probably because nobody knew it was there or how to find it.
On Super Tuesday election night March 3, the media focused on voting locations where there were long lines and people waiting late into the evening to vote. But another good story would have been the many locations around town that were almost empty.
For whatever reason, the people stuck in those long lines did not walk away and go to other locations where there were no lines. But here’s what I mean by an old-school labor union idea: vans.
When the Democrats know they have 200 frustrated voters in line at Location A, some of whom will get discouraged and go home without voting, they should show up with vans and take people over to Location B to vote.
They used to appear with vans at churches in Dallas to take people to vote. Why weren’t they out there on Super Tuesday cruising voting locations looking for unhappy Democrats to help?
And, of course, I forgot to mention, the Republicans could be doing the same thing in the Park Cities and Preston Hollow. They would need fancier vans with wet bars in them, but it’s the same principle.
The other thing that might happen in a majority blue county like Dallas, by the way, is that the elections department might hop in some vans and do a little traveling of its own. The county elections department has devised no system, process, protocol or technology whatsoever for shifting resources and personnel around quickly on election days to handle crowds.
Do remember whose elections department this is. Nine years ago, Democratic County Commissioner John Wiley Price forced out longtime county elections administrator Bruce Sherbet, now elections administrator in Collin County.
Sherbet is a nationally recognized elections expert and consultant with a sterling reputation for running clean and fair elections, which seemed to be what got him into hot water with Price.
Price is the county’s longest-serving commissioner and has outsize power and influence on the commissioners court. In Sherbet’s place as Dallas County elections administrator these nine years has been Price’s personal choice for the job, Toni Pippins-Poole.
Let’s be frank. This is a Democratic elections department. That’s fine with me. It’s a Democratic county. I’m a Democrat. All hail Democrats.
But if the elections department has been run for almost a decade by the hand-picked favorite of one of the county’s most powerful Democratic politicians and on Super Tuesday the precincts that got screwed the worst were mainly Democratic precincts, how exactly do we put that on the Republicans? Are the Republicans suppressing the vote by not telling the Democrats how to get their act together?
The long-lines issue occurred around the state and clearly had a lot to do with an especially big voter turnout. But here, the impact on poor and minority (Democratic) precincts was especially harsh. People inside the county talked to me about it but only off the record, saying they feared lawsuits from some of the county’s contractors and suppliers.
First of all, the county’s whole system only works by squeezing itself through the keyhole of a commercial internet connection, with AT&T as the first provider and Verizon as backup. That specific part of the voting system — the communication back and forth on credentials and voting between the polling places and the elections department — was the main bottleneck on Super Tuesday, greatly exacerbating the crowding problems.
But, wait. Everybody knows that internet service in Dallas is a tale of two cities. Over a year ago, the Dallas Fed published a study finding that Dallas is the least connected major city in Texas and one of the least in the nation, with a great yawning chasm between the north, which has great connectivity, and the south, where many areas have almost none at all.
A lot of the media attention on the connectivity divide in Dallas has focused on the low number of households with internet connections in the city’s southern hemisphere. The Dallas Public Library system recently rolled out a new program to provide Wi-Fi hot spot devices to households in internet-needy areas.
What that ignores, however, is the basic infrastructure needed to serve those household connections and the market to pay for the infrastructure. Given the lack of a strong retail market in the south, the big providers have committed far less investment to towers there.
In much of southern Dallas today, you can have all the hot spots and smart phones you want. When you turn them on, you’re still not going to get any bars on your display showing available service.
I’m not saying that’s Toni Pippins-Poole’s fault. I don’t think John Wiley Price did it, although I could be wrong. Call it a market reality, call it what you like. The fact remains that any system dependent on the internet is not going to work worth a damn in areas that don’t have internet access worth a damn. And we all know exactly where that means: southern Dallas.
So let me go back to something above. Dallas County has had a Democrat-dominated elections department for almost a decade, run by the hand-picked favorite of one of the county’s most powerful Democrats. How did we wind up with a voting system that works way better in affluent Republican parts of town than in poor and working-class Democratic areas?
I’m sorry, but hectoring the Republicans over this is never going to be a winning proposition. The Republicans don’t mind being hectored. They could be hectored all day. If the thing they are being hectored for is low Democratic voter turnout, they are happy to serve.
The Texas Democratic Party filed a federal lawsuit in Laredo last week going after Republicans in Austin again for voter suppression, this time focusing mainly on a 2017 state law eliminating straight-ticket voting. This new effort is based on the First and 14th Amendments and what’s left of the federal Voting Rights Act. Party officials also are folding in references to the March 3 slow-vote and long-lines problems around the state.
I wish them luck. The opposition to straight-ticket voting has always been based on an elite Republican animus against poor and working-class voters and the belief that Democrats are too stupid to know for whom they are voting. To hell with that. I wish the lawsuit could get somewhere, although that seems unlikely given that a majority of states already have outlawed one-punch voting.
In the meantime, Democrats here in Dallas need to deal with certain realities, the greatest of which is that Republicans don’t run Dallas County anymore. It actually has been quite some time.
I would even go so far as to assert that the worst problems we saw here in Dallas County on Super Tuesday were Democrat problems. Solidly Democratic. The Democratic regime in the county elections department was installed nine years ago after the former elections administrator was pushed out basically for being too non-partisan.
So I guess we could say we don’t merely have a Democratic elections department. By now we should have an actively partisan Democratic elections department.
Under that aegis, we have abandoned an old tried-and-true method for turning out the vote in favor of a new system dependent on technology that rich white people have lots of and poor minority people have little. Tell me again how Democrats did that?
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Quite apart from the official bureaucracy, there has been zero organizing or mobilization out on the street to make up for the inequities and problems in the system. Where are the vans?
If the Republicans had vans, they’d hand out daiquiris. Democrats should at least offer a weary voter a cold beer. Or three cold beers. I’m not a puritan. Just make it happen.
And here’s a final thought. And I am sincere. If Democrats in Dallas County mainly did this to themselves, is there any way they can blame it all on the Republicans? Please. I’d really like to know.
If you can think of a realistic way the Ds can blame nine years of their own inertia on the Rs, send it over. I’ll give it a whirl. I’m not proud.