Texans discuss health of state’s democracy at Tribune event

A lot of Texans have expressed their dissatisfaction with politics and distrust of government and public institutions across the political spectrum around the 2024 elections.

In regard to this issue, The Texas Tribune has launched an initiative, “We The Texas,” in order to give effort in focusing and resolving Texas people that would uphold the state’s democracy, and this also works on how Texas institutions can more effectively work on behalf of the state’s residents.

The Tribune held a multi-panel event at the University of Houston Downtown in which they featured experts who discussed the current health of Texas democracy. Panelists also discussed Texas’ voter turnout, which contributes to the challenges for local governments, the state of local news and how that’s affecting communities, and how young Texans are engaging and making a difference.

“We can’t leave people in despair.”

When they talked about the state of American democracy, the panelists discussed deepening polarization, the role identity politics has played in hyperpartisanship, and how news organizations can help narrow the schism we face.

The senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, Michael Li, mentioned that political polarization has been deepened by partisan redistricting due to a lack of competitive races, which would, in turn, decrease voter mobilization. He also mentioned about the 1998 election in which the U.S. House had 186 toss-up seats – a sharp contrast with the 25 toss-ups in the current congressional landscape.

William McKenzie, senior editorial adviser at the George W. Bush Institute, referenced how younger voters see the bipartisan spirit among lawmakers across the aisle as a forgone time.

Executive director of Search for Common Ground USA Nealin Parker expressed the role of journalists in mending the partisan divide by publishing more solution-oriented journals.

Ending on a positive note, she referenced her work in conflict zones and noted that, in comparison, America is not in a “bad place” but rather facing a “bad direction.” She also touted the importance of focusing on common ground as a starting point for opposing factions to work toward solutions.

Addressing Texas’ voter turnout issues

In recent years, Texas lawmakers have tightened the state election laws; they discussed the problems voters face while heading to the polls due to roadblocks. They discussed focusing more on down-ballot races in order to boost voter turnout. They also discussed the need for mindful voter education.

President of Texas Civil Rights Project, Rochelle Garza, said that voters are energized when they see representation on their ballots. However, she noted that in her campaign against Ken Paxton for Texas attorney general, where she focused on her background as an expectant mother, a Latina from Brownsville, and a “pro-civil rights platform,” she found it tough to get people to invest in her race.

Professor of political science at Rice University Melissa Marschall and Garza agreed that voter registration can be made easier by decreasing the number of elections and consolidating them into cycles that are “during a regular time of year.” Treating voting as a habit, in addition to increasing education and outreach, can help boost youth voter turnout, according to Marschall.

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