AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Saturday, a group of Texas leaders and citizens concluded a four-day 27-mile march to the Texas State Capitol in Austin — to protest controversial Republican-led voting laws widely believed to be restrictive.
Advocacy group The Poor People’s Campaign will host the rally alongside Black Voters Matter and Powered By People, the equality organization created by former Texas Rep. and political activist Beto O’Rourke. The group marched 27 miles in observance of the distance from Selma to Montgomery during the historic Civil Rights era marches.
Those who marched say they’re worried about voter suppression.
If passed, the elections bill would limit early voting hours, ban drive-thru and mail-in ballot drop boxes, among other major changes. Senate Bill 1 would also allow partisan poll watchers to record voters who get help filling out ballots — and make it a crime for local elections officials to encourage voting by mail.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other state Republicans have zeroed in on “election integrity” bills since the November 2020 Election, although there’s no evidence any widespread voter fraud occurred.
On Saturday, O’Rourke addressed Texas’ current election laws, saying:
“Texas may have produced the laws that have made this the hardest state in the nation in which to vote. A state that has closed more than 700 polling places — most of them concentrated in low-income and Black and brown neighborhoods. Making people wait five, six, seven hours in order to vote. Texas: where our voter ID laws say ‘You can use your license to carry a firearm to prove who you are at the polling place, but you cannot use your student ID from the University of Texas at Austin to prove who you are at the polling place.”Beto O’Rourke
“Whether it’s ending 24 hour voting, or allowing free rein to poll watchers and making it harder to be able to vote by mail and an absentee ballot, this is going to make it tougher, not easier for those who should have a say in our elections,” O’Rourke testified during a hearing earlier this month.
The polarizing legislation also led to a historic walkout by Texas House Democrats, who left a July 12 hearing on the bill and flew to Washington, D.C. in an effort to block passage.
Marchers started at the AFL-CIO building on Lavaca Street in downtown Austin at 8 a.m. Saturday, until they arrive at the Capitol for the rally at 10 a.m.
“Every single Texan deserves the right to vote,” said demonstrator Jamie Eickhoff. “Because we’re American citizens and that means red voters, blue voters, green voters, pink voters, purple voters, black voter. Whatever voters there are, we should not be restricting access to the ballot like Texas is trying to do.”
Meanwhile, those who call the voting bill necessary for elections integrity demonstrated in front of the Capitol grounds.
“We’re out here to support election integrity and encourage Texans to actually read the bill that the democrats are voting against,” said counter-protester Jennifer Fleck, with the We The People group. “It’s not about voter suppression. It’s just about putting legal and reasonable boundaries on voting.”
Country and Texas music legend Willie Nelson joined the Poor People’s Campaign voting rights rally later in the afternoon, lending his voice and his guitar for a performance.
“Laws making it more difficult for people to vote are un-American and are intended to punish poor people, people of color, the elderly and disabled…why?” Nelson said. “If you can’t win playing by the rules, then it’s you and your platform — not everyone else’s ability to vote.”