Hey y'all, Stuart here. Most days time seems to stand still (or move glacially) in the rural places of the world. It is as infinite as the West Texas wind. But it is also true that time, tide and trolley wait for no one, as the old saying goes. After digging into early voting hours at the polls in West Texas, time, it seems, also waits for no voter.
Recently, I have been looking into early voting hours in rural communities across West Texas and, boy howdy, there is no standard and wide fluctuations county to county. Go ahead and take a gander at a few county election websites and you’ll see what I mean. This is the result of the wide latitude county government has in Texas. But it is also reveals the silent waning of voter participation, and waxing of cynicism and apathy, from elected officials as well as voters. This atrophy can only be broken by rural Democrats, standing up and speaking out again.
County commissioners do the lion’s share of governing in Texas. They administer powerful departments that citizens rely on and manage significant budgets. Counties and County Commissioners also have wide discretion on elections at the local level. These decisions impact when and where we will be able to vote and how we'll be able to cast our ballots, if at all. Some counties are great and have already done the work to extend voting hours and locations. Some are doing the bare minimum, whether because of money or disinclination. Many more are in between, tacking on a few hours here or there, but still running things the way it's always been done. Elections, we all know, especially at the county level, require a lot of money, time and investment to hold. But while Democrats at the state level continue the good work to end the Texas Republicans desire to dilute and diminish the power and rights of urban voters, there are things that we in rural Texas can do. on our own, to not only hold the line - but expand the reach of the ballot.
Rural Texas Democrats must get involved in our local County courthouses and push to extend early voting hours. So how do we go about that? Many are unaware that under the law, Counties with under 55,000 in population can have twelve hours of early voting per day (between 6:00 a.m and 10:00 p.m.) during the last week of early voting if 15 registered voters of the county sign a petition to extend those hours. That's right, just 15. It is doable in even the smallest county and I believe folks oughta take a serious look at doing just that. Voters in counties under 55,000 can also petition for extended voting hours on the last Saturday and Sunday in early voting, again, with the signatures of just 15 registered voters.
Rural Democrats are told so often the cause is lost, that we have no candidates, no hope to change our plight and that we should just sit down and be idle spectators while the real fights happen in Austin and DC. No more! We have the tools, however imperfect, to push for better and more access to the ballot in our own counties and it starts down the street at our local courthouse. The only option to casting a ballot being in one location, Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm, simply isn’t acceptable anymore in 2021. Folks are working, raising kids, building businesses, and living life and how, when and where we vote for our leaders ought to take that into account.
Some will say that the money and time commitment extending these hours is too much to ask of our local counties and poll workers. Some Democrats will feel that this is just another way to give Republicans more opportunities to vote. Let me say quite simply: every rural Texan ought to have fair, direct, and simple access to the ballot, regardless of race, class, and yes, even party. It’s up to us to change the direction of things in Texas and regain control of our destiny. I firmly believe rural Texas Democrats can lead the way to better days and fairer government, if only we decide to try. We certainly can’t leave it up to the other side.
Stuart Williams is the Executive Director of The 134 PAC and lives in Lubbock, Texas