SB 4 promises to improve Latino voter turnout

G. Elliott Morris

Backlash. It’s one of the more powerful forces in politics. The Reagan Revolution was a backlash against 40 years of a blue New Deal Democratic coalition. The election of Donald Trump was a backlash against the perceived abandonment of the white working class — or maybe pro-diversity politics. The verdict is still out.

There will be backlash against Senate Bill 4, a law that, when it’s likely passed, will allow officers to ask — no, demand — the documentation of anyone they believe to be an illegal immigrant. Some people refer to this as a “papers, please” law.
I see no reason why this bill, which will undoubtedly affect the Latino community more than others, should not increase turnout among those minority voters who favor Democrats at the expense of GOP strength in the Texas Legislature. It has certainly happened before.

Research has shown that the periods of black empowerment in the mid-to-late 1900s increased both voter turnout and holdings of elected office among the black population. The researchers hypothesize that the increase in turnout, just like the black empowerment movement itself, was brought about by events such as the Rodney King riots.

This phenomenon also occurred in 2010, when turnout among white conservatives increased as the Tea Party backlash against Obama Democrats grew. Tea Party voters, of course, would be responsible for electing such legislators as Ted Cruz and Randy Weber, the U.S. House Representative from Texas’ 14th Congressional District.

So far, then, movements that emerge to oppose the treatment of certain subgroups of Americans appear to have had significant impacts on future electoral outcomes. Black empowerment? Democrat. Tea Party? Republican.

Hispanic suppression? Democrat. And we still haven’t taken into account the most proximal evidence available for this claim. That evidence is the increase in Latino voter participation in Arizona after they passed their version of SB 4, SB 1070, in 2011. According to voter registration numbers in the state, 90,000 Latino voters were on the early voter rolls in 2010. In 2016, that number was 300,000 — an increase of 330 percent. That increase in turnout may have helped move Arizona from a state that voted for Romney by 10 percent in 2012 to one that voted for President Trump by only 4 percent last November.

Why, then, should we not expect the same to happen in Texas? For one thing, Texas has been slowly getting less Republican-leaning and more moderate since the turn of the century. And increasing Latino turnout, which favors Democrats, is part of the reason for that slightly more purple Texas.

If Democrats in the Lone Star State want to capitalize on their current advantage with Latino voters — voters that cast ballots in 2016 for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump 61 percent to 34 percent — emphasizing this blatant attack on their humanity is a good place to start. Democratic candidates — I’m talking about Beto O’Rourke here — would be smart to paint the passage of SB 4 as the total responsibility of the Republicans because, well, it is.

In the coming years, we could see a Democratic wave emerge in Texas. Senate Bill 4 may cause that wave to magnify.

Morris is a government, history and computer science junior from Port Aransas. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @gelliottmorris.