Those of us who focus on and care about government generally do so because we want the government to do a good job. Especially on the Democratic side, we want government to work. And, when we see it working well, the view here is that we should say so. 

With that in mind I want to offer some praise and recognition for Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir (photo at top) and Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant. In Travis County, the Tax Assessor-Collector also serves as the Voter Registrar. Among other duties, DeBeauvoir is in charge of running elections in Travis County. 

The reason this comes to mind is that my wife Adela Mancias (also content and copy editor of the Austin Independent) and I voted last Friday. Being (slightly) over 65, we were able to vote by mail. Although we are strong supporters and admirers of the Post Office, we did not want to cast our ballots to an uncertain fate where they could fall prey to the sabotage of the Post Office by the Trump Administration. So we decided to drop our ballots off at the Travis County mail-in ballot drop off location at 5501 Airport Boulevard. As readers probably know, Travis County originally planned to have four drop off locations, but Republican Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order limiting each of Texas’ 254 counties to only one drop off location per county.

We arrived at the location around 2:30 pm Friday October 23. There was already a line of a few cars poking out into the street, but this proved to be very temporary. We quickly made it into the driveway where a uniformed Travis County official, in a mask, greeted us and politely asked us what our purpose was. The site is also the central Travis County location to renew vehicle registration.

We told her that we were there to drop off our mail-in ballots. She cheerfully directed us to drive across the parking lot to a set of open air tents. There we were greeted by more friendly and efficient county employees, who directed us between the appropriate traffic cones and into a parking place reserved for those dropping off ballots.

Travis County employees staffing the mail-in ballot drop off location, the only one that Governor Greg Abbott allows in Travis County 10-23-20
Travis County employees staffing the mail-in ballot drop off location, the only one that Governor Greg Abbott allows in Travis County – photo by Adela Mancias

Then an employee came to each window of the car, checked our IDs, checked our signatures on the sealed ballot envelope against our drivers license signatures, and explained to each of us individually that we could watch them as they dropped our ballots into the ballot box. We did, and even took pictures.

Next, another county employee helped safely guide us out of our parking place. There was a whole lot of activity in the parking lot and other employees directed us to the exits. 

We drove away confident that our votes were going to be counted.

We also drove away proud that we live in a County, and City, where the government is competent and most all the officials are dedicated to making sure that government serves the citizens. This was a very clear and critically important instance in which it did just that.

Travis County employee dropping mail-in ballot into the ballot box at the one location allowed by Governor Abbott, November 2020 Election
Travis County employee dropping mail-in ballot into the ballot box at the one location allowed by Governor Abbott, November 2020 Election – Photo by Daryl Slusher

Yes, I can hear some cynics out there saying, that sure is a lot of employees for that job. Yes, it was quite a few, but in my view, not one too many. They were there to make the process as efficient as possible, to protect against fender benders in a busy parking lot, and to make it an orderly process — among other things helping prevent potential tension between citizens that can occur in disorganized processes with long lines, of people or cars.

That operation was run by DeBeauvoir and her office. They also run early voting, election day voting and counting of the results. By the way, in the July primary runoff Adela and I voted early and that process also went smoothly. There was a little bit of a socially distanced wait, which is really a good thing because it means a lot of people are voting. The process itself was as efficient as the drop off ballot process described above. For any information on voting in Travis County, click here.

Travis County Leads Texas Urban Counties In Voter Registration

The volume of voters that DeBeauvoir and her staff have to handle is higher because of the success of Elfant, his staff and thousands of volunteer deputy registrars. Over several years, Elfant has led voter registration efforts that brought Travis County to a registration rate of 94.5%. That means, of those eligible to vote in Travis County, 94.5% are registered — the highest rate of any urban county in Texas.

Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant
Bruce Elfant

Elfant and his team did this through recruiting thousands of volunteer deputy registrars and with innovative tactics like creating the nation’s first “unregistered voter maps” and through other creative efforts like launching a logo, a Public Service Announcement, and mural contests. Partners in the efforts included, or include, the League of Women Voters, the University of Texas, Huston Tillotson University, Austin Community College, the Travis Central Appraisal District, the City of Austin, Thundercloud Subs, the Alamo Drafthouse, the Austin Apartment Association and many others.

Elfant has led voter registration efforts that brought Travis County to a registration rate of 94.5% — the highest rate of any urban county in Texas.

One important thing to note here (it really should go without saying, but we will point it out anyway, given our troubled, divided times), is that the work Elfant and his team, and DeBeauvoir and her team, do in registering voters and making it as easy and as safe as possible to vote is totally nonpartisan. They do not ask who someone is voting for or to which party they belong (except when directing people to their intended destination in primaries).

Nonetheless, the high level of registration in Travis County, and what looks like a very high turnout, will doubtlessly work in Democrats’ favor. This brings us to a fundamental point and it also means that I have to discuss Republican Governor Abbott. 

One Party Wants As Many People As Possible To Vote, The Other Doesn’t

In a democracy the candidate who gets the most votes wins — with of course the exception of American presidential elections where the winner of the Electoral College, not the winner of the popular vote, wins the presidency.

There is no electoral college in Texas state elections. So though a lot of Democrats, including me, have numerous criticisms of Governor Abbott and disagree with him philosophically, there is no doubt that he is the legitimate, democratically elected, Governor of Texas. That is because there is really no doubt that Abbott twice won the most votes in a Texas gubernatorial election. Yes, there were some Republican voter suppression tactics at work, but still there is no doubt that Abbott won the majority of Texans’ votes, and voter suppression did not make the difference.

So, if Democrats don’t like Republican rule then they need to persuade more people to vote, and to vote their way. That is exactly what Democrats have been doing. Plus, President Trump, and Abbott, have been driving people into the Democratic ranks with their disastrous, tragic, deadly mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

So now Democrats actually have a serious chance at winning a majority in the Texas House and at winning Congressional seats that Republicans gerrymandered with the intent that Democrats would never have a chance to win there. It is even within the realm of possibility that Democrat Joe Biden might carry Texas, and there is even an outside chance that M.J. Hegar can defeat incumbent John Cornyn for the US Senate. 

So what has Governor Greg Abbott done to counter the rising strength of Democrats in Texas? Did he hit the campaign trail to stump for his party’s slate of candidates; well, maybe a little. 

Any campaigning by Abbott at this point though would be of limited impact, because so many people have already decided how they are going to vote. So the Governor decided it would be much more effective to make it harder for people in majority Democratic areas to vote, and/or to have their votes counted. And, what better way to do that — if you don’t care about democratic principles or basic fairness — than to limit the amount of places that people can officially drop off their mail-in ballots, especially during a pandemic. That’s what Abbott did with his order that each Texas county can have only one drop off location for mail-in ballots, no matter how large or small the population of the county.

This raw, undemocratic, voter suppression tactic builds on earlier successful efforts by Abbott and fellow Texas Republicans to disallow  the risk of exposure to COVID as a reason to vote by mail. 

Those efforts combine with President Donald Trump’s campaign to sabotage the Post Office through his appointment of Postmaster Louis DeJoy Abbott who has actually taken several steps to slow mail delivery. Trump explained the strategy in one of his rare bursts of honesty, telling Fox and Friends, “if you ever agreed to it (mail-in voting), you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Trump explained the strategy in one of his rare bursts of honesty, telling Fox and Friends, “if you ever agreed to it (mail-in voting), you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

So, that is the process in which Abbott is participating. He is without question trying to make it harder for people to vote. He is engaged in a brazen attempt to suppress the vote. Clearly his order limiting counties to one ballot drop off point is planned not just to reduce the vote (which would be bad enough), but to reduce the Democratic vote — because the Democratic vote is concentrated in urban areas where Abbott’s order will have the biggest impact. 

Hopefully, the efforts of DeBeauvoir, Elfant and other County officials around the state will keep the voter suppression tactics of Abbott and other Republicans from being decisive in any Texas race. Such a rosy outcome, however, is far from assured. And, we haven’t even seen what dirty tricks Republicans will come up with on election day or in the remaining days of early voting — which ends October 30. Abbott, however, risks specifically calling into question the legitimacy of the election in Texas.

Since I mentioned election illegitimacy, I should note that some national pundits are writing articles bemoaning that huge numbers on each side believe that the election will be illegitimate if their side loses. That is true and these pundits are right in what is usually their point, that this is a bad situation for our country to be in. At the same time though, it is a false equivalency to act as if this just some sort of psychological failing on the American people’s part, on both sides of the political divide. Here’s an example.

In the current election we have one side trying to get as many people to vote as possible while the other side is trying to prevent people from voting, and trying to prevent the ballots of some who do vote from being counted. Plus, the Republican President is openly spreading blatant, easily refutable, falsehoods about the potential of fraud from mail-in voting — at the same time that he sabotages the Post Office to try to slow delivery of ballots. All these of course are Republican tactics attempting to delegitimize an election they are afraid they will lose. 

Governor Abbott is a willing and enthusiastic participant in these efforts. This is something that all Texans — Democratic, Independent, and Republican — should keep in mind in the days ahead. Democrats and Independents in particular should long remember this, especially when 2022 rolls around and Abbott is up for reelection. Democrats should field a real candidate this time.


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