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Civil Rights Activists Push AT&T, Other Texas Companies To Join Voting Rights Fight

People in teal shirts hold signs that read "Black Voters Matter" and "No HB6" in front of a building with the AT&T corporate logo
Christopher Connelly
/
KERA News
Members of the Texas Organizing project joined a rally calling on AT&T to stop donating to the state's GOP leaders over legislation in Austin that would limit ballot access.

Voting rights advocates gathered outside of AT&T’s corporate headquarters in downtown Dallas on Thursday to call on the company to stop donating to lawmakers who want to limit voting access.

AT&T is one of several Texas companies in activists' crosshairs. The rally was part of a coordinated statewide strategy by progressive groups to enlist Texas’ largest corporations in a fight against legislation that would make it harder to vote.

"This is not the time for corporations to sit on the sideline," said Jane Hamilton from the Barbara Jordan Leadership Institute.

The sweeping Republican proposals would limit early voting, ban drive-through voting and make it a crime for local election officials to proactively send out vote-by-mail applications. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have declared the legislation a priority, easing the pathway for passage.

For years, Republican leaders have pressed for restrictions on voting in the name of securing the ballot, but have consistently failed to come up with evidence of significant voter fraud.

Voting rights advocates say the measures currently moving through the legislature will make voting even more challenging for people with disabilities and communities of color.

A well-organized multiracial group of about 100 community organizers, faith leaders, union members and civil rights activists chanted slogans decrying the legislation as "Jim Crow 2.0." Their voices competed with the AT&T Discovery District's giant video screen blaring trailers for new offerings on HBOMax, which is owned by AT&T.

"Voter suppression is going on in the name of voter integrity," said Rev. Frederick Douglass Haynes of Friendship-West Baptist Church. "But all of us ain’t falling for the okey-doke, because we realize it has ugly roots in Jim and Jane Crow segregation. It has ugly roots in racism."

Haynes and other speakers pointed to corporate declarations opposing racism that AT&T and other Texas companies released during the summer's racial justice programs. They said failure to stand with voting rights advocates now exposes corporate pledges as empty.

Specifically, the activists demanded that AT&T and other corporations withhold campaign donations to politicians who vote for the voting restrictions.

AT&T released a statement saying “the right to vote is sacred” and that “easily accessible and secure voting is not only a precious right and responsibility, it’s the single best way to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.”

The statement did not mention the GOP legislation.

That made the statement insufficient, said Eric Tilley from the Communications Workers of America, which represents about 2,800 AT&T employees in Dallas, and many more throughout Texas.

“We’re demanding that AT&T take a side, whether that’s on the side of legislators whose sole purpose is to further suppress the vote of their constituents, or to strongly denounce these efforts and stand with us and send a resounding message that this type of voter suppression will not be allowed in the great state of Texas.”

Several speakers recounted stories of Texans who fought for the right to vote when Texas law enacted barriers meant to keep Black and Latino people from voting.

Brianna Brown from the Texas Organizing Project recalled, as a child, hearing her grandmother ask herself if she'd remembered whether she'd paid her poll tax, before reminding herself that she no longer had to pay a poll tax.

"The status quo, right-wing state leadership is doing what they've always done to maintain white supremacy: They are rigging the game," said Brown. "Simply put, the right wing wins when fewer people participate."

Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Austin-based Dell Technologies have opposed the legislation. If the activists have their way, more Texas-based companies will follow suit.

A woman in a grey shirt stands in a crowd of people at a voting rights rally.
Christopher Connelly
Crystal Mason spoke out against the GOP bills at the rally. Mason cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 presidential election. Under Texas law, Mason was ineligible to vote because she was on parole. She said she did not know she couldn't legally vote. She was sentenced to a five-year prison term for illegal voting, even though her vote was never counted. She's appealing the conviction.

Research has consistently failed to find widespread voter fraud in the U.S.

Despite the research, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton dedicated more than 22,000 staff hours to investigating and prosecuting voter fraud in Texas, and filed just 16 cases, none of which resulted in jail time. More than 11 million Texans voted in the 2020 presidential election.

After the November election, as former President Donald Trump repeatedly lied that rampant voter fraud caused his defeat, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick offered a $1 million reward for anyone who would come forward with tips about voter fraud.

So far, Patrick hasn’t announced a single illegal voting case.

During the 2020 election cycle, AT&T's political action committee donated $80,000 to Gov. Greg Abbott's campaign, and $50,000 to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at cconnelly@kera.org.You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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