The Battle For The Ballot Box, Texas Voting Rights
“Texas Matters,” a weekly public affairs program that airs on Texas Public Radio (TPR) was able to provide sustained and ongoing, dedicated coverage on voting rights. Since July 2020, “Texas Matters” has featured 21 individual news programs dedicated to educating the public about the problems with the state’s system for registering to vote and casting a ballot.
In the run-up to the November general election, in the combative months afterward and then through the Texas legislative session, “Texas Matters” focused its reporting on voting rights and recurring attacks on democratic institutions through in-depth and original reporting.
For over 20 years, “Texas Matters” has provided a weekly half-hour program in long-form public service journalism with David Martin Davies as host and producer.
The following audio excerpts are three examples of TPR's crucial and timely coverage of voting rights in Texas.
On October 30, 2020, "Texas Matters" broadcasted “The Meanest Dirtiest Low-Down Stuff — Texas: The State of Voter Suppression.” The title was drawn from a quote from President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This radio documentary took listeners to Prairie View A&M, a historically Black university located about 50 miles northwest of Houston in rural Waller County. It was established in Texas by the legislature in 1876 on a former slave plantation. As a polling site, the campus is also notorious for oppressing the voting rights of African American students.
Waller County has a population that is mostly white, and Prairie View A&M is the largest concentration of Black voters in the county — roughly 20% of the county’s population. They could be a powerful voting bloc, if they were allowed to vote.
It is important that listeners hear the history of voter suppression in Texas. When the public is aware of the backstory and the lineage of organized state-sponsored efforts to keep select populations from voting, then they are better prepared to recognize what is happening today and can more easily identify the flaws in the justification to take away certain voting privileges.
On April 23, 2021, TPR aired “Battle for the Ballot Box – Security or Suppression?” The one-hour special was shared with public radio stations across Texas as the Republican-controlled state legislature was working to pass its sweeping election overhaul bill known as Senate Bill 7. Backers of SB7 said it was necessary for election security and to restore public confidence in elections. They also promised that it would in no way make it more difficult to vote.
The reporting in this special Texas Matters program took a look at those claims by sifting through the facts, testimony, and historical records to help the listener decide for themselves about the intent and impact of this legislation.
At 3 a.m. on Friday on May 7, 2021, the Republican-backed voter restriction bill won initial approval by the Texas House of Representatives. Later that same day, "Texas Matters" aired the episode “How The Voter Restriction Bill Passed In The Texas House.” Even though the outcome was preordained, there was a story to tell that contained conflict, unintentional humor, drama and tragedy.
Even in public radio, there are constraints on how much time can be devoted to a particular story. But in this case with voting rights so connected to the mission of public service journalism, “Texas Matters” was able to take the time needed to explain what was happening in the legislature just hours before airtime.