Every voice matters, every vote counts.
by Amanda Williams
By now you may have heard about an upcoming midterm election in Texas. On November 4, Texas holds its first open election for governor since 1990. We’ll see Democratic candidate Wendy Davis face off with Republican Greg Abbott for governor while Leticia Van de Putte, a Democrat, battles Republican Dan Patrick for lieutenant governor.
It’s an important election, one that has the potential to make drastic changes in the arenas of education, healthcare, pay equity, and more. Furthermore, it’s also a historical moment for Texas women. The Davis and Van de Putte candidacy is only the fifth time in at least the past two decades that a party has nominated two women for both governor and lieutenant governor. Should the all-female ticket win, it would be the first time Texas elects two women to serve concurrently in these high-powered seats.
While groups around the state are conducting voter registration drives and getting the word out about these candidates, the question of voter turnout will continue to go unanswered until Election Day. And while much speculation has been made about whether or not more women will feel empowered to turn out to vote seeing that Davis and Van de Putte are up to bat, historically, it has been specifically women of color who tend to be the deciding factor in electoral victories across the country. Not only is this fact important from a grassroots movement-building perspective, but recognition of minority voters across the board is crucial to understanding what’s really at stake this November.
Take the 2012 election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney—much was said about the so-called gender gap among voters. A common narrative being that women, who for the first time turned out in greater rates and higher numbers than men, were responsible for President Obama’s victory. However, according to a report by the Center for American Progress (CAP), while 42 percent of white women voted for President Obama, 76 percent of Latinas and 96 percent of black women voted for the president, totaling in 55 percent of all women. This left 52 percent of white women who voted for Romney, meaning that President Obama did not win white women’s vote. It was with the overwhelming support of women of color that he was able to win the women’s vote as a whole. This simple fact shows the true extent of just how powerful the voices of women of color can be.
What we saw in 2012 is a small part of a big trend that has been going on for over a decade. The CAP reports that women of color have been voting at steadily increasing rates over the last 12 years. In fact, their increase in turnout has been quite drastic. Between 2004 and 2008, Latina turnout increased by 21 percent, black women’s by 8 percent, and Asian American women by 17 percent. They almost always turn out at greater rates than men of color.
Although this trend is prevalent nationwide, voter turnout in Texas as a whole is extremely low, especially for women. According to a recent Texas on the Brink Report, Texas is 51st (read: dead last) in women’s voter turnout and 47th in women’s voter registration. Furthermore, a recently enforced Texas Voter ID law is said to make it harder for minority populations to vote.
The Texas Voter ID law requires voters to show photo identification when voting in person. The list of acceptable forms of photo ID include: Texas driver’s license, an Election Identification Certificate, a Texas personal ID card, Texas concealed handgun license, U.S. military ID, U.S. citizenship certificate, or a U.S. passport.
While there are few exceptions to the law, opponents of the law state that excluding certain forms of identification such as tribal IDs, student IDs, utility bills, social security cards, and expired driver’s licenses makes voting disproportionately more onerous for people of color, as well as students and the elderly. One study conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice shows that while just 8 percent of white voters lack photo identification, 25 percent of black voters and 16 percent of Latino voters donot have photo IDs.
Marianela Acuña-Arreaza is the Texas Coordinator for VoteRiders, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focusing on making sure that no eligible citizen is denied his or her right to vote for lack of ID. She says that obtaining an appropriate photo ID can be more difficult than people think, especially for people of color and women. “Many women may change their names after they marry or divorce, and if their name doesn’t match the name that is on their voter file, they may be given a provisional ballot [instead of a regular ballot] at the polls,” Acuña-Arreaza says.
Acuña-Arreaza explains that if the name on your ID matches perfectly with the name on your voter file, then you get a regular ballot. If the names are completely different, then a voter will be given a provisional ballot. However, if the names are “substantially similar,” then that decision is up to the poll worker. “It’s tricky because Latinos and Asian Americans often change their names when they become naturalized citizens,” she says. “Some may use two different names, and in other cases, their names may be misspelled. These things are most common among people of color, making them at higher risk of receiving a provisional ballot, which won’t be counted unless the voter takes an acceptable ID to the registrar’s office by the Monday following the election.”
VoteRiders assists people on multiple levels—from helping them with name changes to navigating the bureaucratic systems necessary to get them a valid photo ID. You can find them online at voteriders.org.
Beyond the numbers, why are the voices of women of color so important in this election? What do they have to lose?
Women of color are typically disproportionately affected by a slew of policies and restrictions at all levels of the political spectrum.
They currently represent 53.2 percent of uninsured women and, in turn, suffer a variety of health disparities. Access to healthcare, reducing the rate of uninsured, and the decision of whether or not to maximize funding for Medicaid are big issues for our Texas candidates.
More specifically among healthcare concerns is also the fight for reproductive rights. Low-income women of color often face various forms of reproductive oppression, including a severe lack of access to contraception, sexual health education, and family planning services. Since 2011, the state has cut family planning funding and enforced stricter restrictions on abortion services, therefore closing dozens of clinics that offered much-needed women’s health services in some of Texas’s most underserved communities like the Rio Grande Valley. Women of color will be looking closely at the candidates’ plans to increase access to reproductive healthcare.
Women of color also have a huge economic stake in this election. Although on average women make 77 cents for every dollar an average man makes, the wage gap is much more pronounced among women of color, with black women making 64 cents to the dollar and Latina women making 55 cents to the dollar. And because 40 percent of households with children have female breadwinners, pay equity is an issue all women should be watching carefully.
Among these hot-button topics, education and immigration are also going to be playing a big role in determining the best candidates for women of color and our state as a whole. I encourage you to do your own research to learn where each candidate stands on these important issues.
For the past several months, Legacy Community Health Services, in partnership with Nonprofit Vote and Neighborhood Centers, has been conducting nonpartisan voter registration drives in our clinic lobbies and providing our clients with critical voter information, empowering them to take part in the democratic process. As a community healthcare provider that sees thousands of Texas families every day, our clients trust us to provide them with the care they need. Because of this, we have the power to motivate our clients to take a holistic approach to living a complete, healthy life.
We tell our clients that their voices are important and that their vote matters. And this is exactly what I encourage every Texan to remember in November. Although the issues at the forefront of this election may affect us differently, all of our voices are crucial to upholding our democracy. To be heard, register to vote by October 6, make sure you have an appropriate photo ID, and vote on November 4.
For any questions about voting in Texas, please visit votetexas.gov.
Amanda Williams is the public affairs field specialist at Legacy Community Health Services and focuses on women’s health, human trafficking, and civic engagement. She has a master’s degree in social work with a political specialization. You can find her on twitter @fullfrontalfem.