Texas is becoming a battleground state once again. The past two elections have shown that coupled with the state’s booming population and increased grassroots organizing, more Texans are getting involved in politics by allowing their voices to be heard at the ballot box. In the 2020 election, Texas had its largest voter turnout in nearly 30 years with almost 17 million registered voters and upwards of 11 million casting their ballot (Harper, Texas Tribune). This has led to competitive races that no longer guarantee election victories for Republicans. Although the state has not produced the results that Democrats and Progressives hoped for - there is a lot to be excited about for what the future holds in Texas politics.
“I would say first and foremost the reason we had such a high turnout in Texas was because of organizing. We saw it not only in Texas but in Georgia and we saw it in Arizona. Both of those states were able to turn blue because of the grassroots organizations that were out there.” Marcy Miranda, Communications Director of Jolt Action, told me during our interview. Jolt Action was founded in 2016 in direct response to Donald Trump’s election victory and is the largest Latinx progressive organization in Texas.
Jolt’s core mission is focused on building political power and influence among Latinx youth through education programs that show how they can become the next influential leaders of the state of Texas. Jolt accomplishes this by uplifting issues and voices in the Latinx community, endorsing candidates up and down the ballot, conducting year-long issue advocacy to engage voters on the issues that matter most to them, and providing training to Latinx youth on public speaking, advocacy, digital organizing, and mobilization so that they can be effective leaders for their community.
This type of work is what drew Marcy to the organization as she has had prior experiences working in journalism, government, politics, and advocacy for a few years now. When she moved to Texas she recognized that “There is a lot of power and potential for Latinos and communities of color in Texas. And ultimately, I really wanted to turn Texas blue. I really hoped that Jolt could help turn Texas blue. I think it is possible.”
As the Texas demographic shifts, Latinx and people of color are about to constitute the majority of the population by 2030. To put that in context, Marcy describes how “Every year, 200,000 Latinos become eligible to vote.” That is a large enough voting block that can swing an election. For instance, Marcy and others at Jolt Action refer to how the Texas Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke was a major indicator of the potential to transform Texas politics. “I think the 2018 midterms election was an incredible opportunity to see some of that shift in how the ground is really shaking for Republicans because Beto O'Rourke, was 2 points away from beating Ted Cruz. That hadn’t happened since the 70s. We had such a close race for Democrats. If you think about it now, we have 200,000 young Latinos come of age, I think 241,000 was the number in which Beto lost” (Miranda, Interview 2021). This shows that as each year passes, more voters become eligible and Republicans can no longer take the results of elections for granted. Furthermore, candidates on both sides of the political aisle will have to work hard, invest resources, and prove to these new voters that they will have their best interests in mind in terms of policy.
This is where Jolt comes in. Just because Latinos come of age and are eligible to vote does not guarantee a vote for every and any Democratic candidate. Their vote must be earned by political organizers engaging these voters, and by politicians addressing relatable causes. Jolt recognizes this by bringing together shared values that tie these communities together. Marcy states, “We care about family, we care about our community, we care about our kids, we want to live the American dream and have a better future…. So, when we talk to folks in our community that is kind of what we go to, we go back to our roots to what it is that brings us here and what it is that ties us together... We understand that we may all come from different places and spaces, but at the root of it we all have the same shared history that allows us to connect with each other, and that is what we try to bring to the table at Jolt - that same culture those same values, that is how we connect with them.” These efforts have shown to be effective in terms of turning out the Latinx vote in recent elections.
For example, Jolt led a specific get out the vote campaign and targeted 75,000 young Latinos under the age of 40 who are low propensity voters. These voters are typically ignored by political parties because they are considered unsafe voters who cannot be relied on to turn out. Jolt did the opposite. “We went to those folks, mostly Latinos and we said, your vote matters, your vote counts, has anyone asked you to come out? The thing about Latino communities is we are not going to come to a party if we are not invited to it. And most politicians in both political parties don’t come and invite us to their party. So we at Jolt took it upon ourselves to go out to our communities and say, this is your party, y'all are invited to show up” (Miranda, Interview 2021). The results were astonishing for many people at Jolt and for the state of Texas. By the time early voting came around, 26% of those whom Jolt had reached out to had already voted, and at the end of early voting, 38% of the first-time voters had already cast their ballot. To put this in perspective, on average, only 6% of first-time voters are likely to vote. Jolt was able to accomplish 38%. Of that 38% of first-time voters, 80% were under the age of 35 (Marcy, Interview).
This shows campaigns and voters that investing more in outreach into these communities can have a much more significant impact than once expected, especially, for younger voters of color. “That is why I think it is so important for campaigns to do that for parties and I think that is why I am hopeful for Texas because we did it in our own small way and our own little mini experiment, so when we do it on a bigger level when a lot of organizations like us come together with big money, there is no way that Democrats can’t win. It is really ours to lose. We just have to get the investment, get the infrastructure in early so that we can truly transform Texas” (Miranda, Interview 2021). Despite the success that Jolt has had organizing at a grassroots level by engaging youth at a young age to achieve record turnout, Democrats are losing the state as these Latinx voters are continually suppressed and marginalized when it comes to having an equal opportunity to vote and participate in politics.
Currently, the Republican-led state legislator and (R) Gov. Greg Abbott has already attempted to curb the most recent turnout in Texas by introducing HB6. The bill aims to reduce the likelihood of voter fraud in elections, even though there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Texas or elsewhere. The bill contains the following:
- Makes it a felony for a public official to distribute an absentee ballot application to anyone who has not requested one.
- Makes it a felony for a public official to distribute an absentee ballot to anyone other than the person who submitted the request.
- Makes it a felony for a public official to encourage anyone to submit an absentee ballot application who did not request one.
- Gives the attorney general broad authority to prosecute volunteers who engage in get-out-the-vote campaigns in the lead-up to elections.
- Gives partisan “poll watchers” special rights to intimidate votes, outlawing their removal from polling places for any reason other than “election fraud.”
- Requires anyone applying for an absentee ballot based on a disability to submit a sworn statement that they are physically incapable of entering a polling place and require that those individuals also provide medical documentation attesting to their condition before they can qualify for an absentee ballot.
- Requires county-wide polling places in a given county have “approximately the same number of voting machines” like every other county-wide polling place in the county, regardless of variations in population.
This clearly reflects the desire to make it harder, but also scarier to cast one’s ballot based on the criminal provisions in the state of Texas. “The truth is our elections are secure and that is proven to be true for many years, even Donald Trump’s own Department of Justice said that they didn’t see any evidence of election interference. So we know this is just another way Republicans are trying to get back at communities of color, at young people who showed up and vote and it is another opportunity for them to try and suppress our vote and we are not going to stand for it” (Miranda, Interview 2021). Furthermore, Jolt has taken it upon itself to incorporate efforts to fight back against these efforts to suppress these voters.
One way the organization is attempting to resolve these voter suppression efforts is to expand and grow the coalition that they have done so well to create. As mentioned earlier, even though Texas voters have turned out at a higher rate than in years past, it has not produced the results for Democratic candidates that many people on the ground have hoped for. Jolt believes that they can continue to build upon a Democratic coalition with more investment from state and national resources. According to Marcy, “Whether people want to recognize it or not. [Texas] is a voter-suppressed and gerrymandered state. If we had more money or more organizations on the ground doing the work that we are doing, not just 4 months before the elections or 6 months before the election, but the years in between, building up those opportunities, building up the pipeline, getting the word out, we would be in a much better state.” It would be a mistake to overlook the results that Texas has generated for Democrats. The numbers are clearly there, especially in a matter of time when people of color become the state’s population majority. This demographic of voters tends to vote democratically. Therefore, “An investment in Texas is exactly what democrats need. It is exactly what progressives need in order to really make big wins. Texas is a battleground state” (Miranda, Interview 2021). Still, as of now, there is a lot of excitement about what the state has in store for the future of Texas politics because of organizations like Jolt Action that are being inclusive to the political realm and building the next generation of leaders in a state has been so severely underrepresented the Latino community.
Harper, Karen. “Despite record turnout, some Texas voters were still shut out.” Texas Tribune. November 6th, 2020.
Miranda, Marcy. Interview. Conducted by Nikhil Inalsingh. March 1st, 2021.