Sherry Sylvester

The Big Lie in Houston – and the Big Truth

What an ugly irony that the Houston Chronicle—which may be the most out-of-touch and Texas-hating newspaper of the metropolitan big five—has just won a Pulitzer Prize for a series they called “The Big Lie.” 

Predictably, the left-wing Pulitzer crowd is lauding a series written by four editorial writers that they say “reveals voter suppression tactics…” in the Texas election reforms that were adopted in the 2021 legislative session. Like the New York Times’ repeatedly debunked 1619 Project, the Chronicle’s “Big Lie” insists that election politics in Texas has been rooted in racism since reconstruction. It demonizes Republicans and insists efforts to increase transparency and public trust in elections is all a ruse. The editorials claim:

 “[Election] Integrity is no more the goal for them than it was for the white primary associations of the 1900s. Only today’s voter fraud warriors have laser pointers.” 

The series mostly forgets that it was Democrats who established those “white primary associations” at the turn of the century, while the Republican Party was the party of reform, primarily comprised of African-American Texans. 

The Houston Chronicle editorial writers rail against requiring a photo ID in order to vote, a Texas law that passed in 2011, as well as what they describe as the refusal of the state lawmakers to allow voting “innovations” like 24-hour and drive-in voting. 

The Pulitzer committee apparently didn’t bother to fact check the series, or they would have learned that it wasn’t just Republicans who support requiring a photo voter ID in order to vote—nearly 85% of all Texans support it, including Democrats. 

As for the charge of “voter suppression,” a Texas Association of Business poll (TAB) conducted in 2021 during the election reform debate found that fully 95% of Texans surveyed—again, that is people from both parties—say it is “easy” to vote in Texas elections.   

And there’s no voter suppression. Since photo voter ID has passed in Texas, there have been record breaking voter turnouts in both presidential and gubernatorial year elections. 

Voter turnout in Texas increased 40% in the 2020 presidential election and 76% in the 2018 gubernatorial election. In 2012, 58% of registered Texans voted and in 2020, almost 67% voted. 

The news hook for the “Big Lie” editorial series were blaring headlines in Texas and nationwide that 12% of Texas mail-in ballots had been rejected in the March primary election. Always looking for ways to demonize Texas, almost none of the news stories on mail-in ballots in the primary reported that those ballots, which required verified identification of either a driver’s license or a social security number, included only about 1% of the total ballots cast in the election. Since it’s not clear how many of those voters went on to vote in-person anyway, like Willie Nelson, the percentage could be even smaller.

But actual numbers didn’t distract the Houston Chronicle’s writers from pushing their ugly theory that racism motivated Texas Republican leaders, who they charge with manipulating Republican voters into believing that protections against voter fraud were needed. It apparently didn’t matter to them that it isn’t just Republicans who want election security—Democrats support it too. The TAB poll also found 85% of Texans in both political parties believe mail-in ballots should require the same identification as in-person voting. Voter fraud in mail-in balloting has never been a secret in Texas, even among Democrats.   
In 2007, when photo voter ID was first being debated, Texas State Rep. Rafael Anchia, a leading Democrat leader from Dallas, spoke against expanding photo voter ID, by using the argument that where real reform was needed was in ballot by mail: He said: “…vote by mail that we know is the greatest source of voter fraud in this state…” requires no identification. 

Still, the story of the 12% mail-in ballot rejection moved forward in both the state and national press unchallenged by any reporter. However, a new poll from RMG Research suggests that even people outside Texas didn’t really buy it. In early May, when asked about the 12% of mail-in ballots that were rejected in Texas, RMG found, predictably, that a third believed what they’d heard in the media, but a larger number—almost 40 percent—believed the rejected ballots indicated that there had been more voter fraud in the past and the new rules were finally able to catch it. 

A Pulitzer fact check would have revealed another “big lie” in the Houston Chronicle’s “Big Lie.” Before election reforms were passed in 2021 the Chronicle wrote that the “state stands to lose more than $31 billion in economic activity and 223,000 jobs by 2025…” because of backlash over the legislation. In fact, Texas, which was among the first states to recover from the pandemic, lost no money and zero jobs because of the election reforms. 

This piece is riddled with many snide little lies, too, and ignores how Texans feel about the Texas House Democrats who shut down the Texas House and flew to Washington, D.C. to protest the election reforms bill. A Texas Public Policy Foundation poll showed that Texans opposed the walkout by a 2-to-1 margin.

Far from being an award-winner, the Houston Chronicle’s “Big Lie” series is just one more in what has become a staple of the Texas press. Texans are portrayed as gullible rubes at best—if not evil, calculating racists. The media doesn’t seem able to accept that conservatives don’t win elections in Texas because of rigged election rules; over the past two decades, conservatives have won with whatever rules were on the books. 

Texans elect conservatives because they share their principles and they like their ideas. They also win because Texas liberals haven’t had a good idea in at least two decades. That’s the Big Truth! 

Sherry Sylvester, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, is a political communications and public policy expert who has directed multi-million dollar statewide campaigns in New York, New Jersey and Texas. Campaigns and Elections Magazine has called her a “respected veteran” of hard-fought elections and in 2005, her alma mater, the Graduate School of Political Management, now at George Washington University in Washington D.C., named her “alumni of the year,” for her accomplishments in the field of professional politics. Early in her career Sherry worked as the Communications Director for U.S. Senate candidate Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman ever nominated for Vice President on a major party ticket. She also worked for David Dinkins, the first African-American to be elected Mayor of New York City. In Texas, she served for over a decade as the spokesperson and a strategic advisor to Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the most successful tort reform organization in the nation. She was a member of the original campaign and transition teams of Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and she managed his 2018 re-election campaign. She served for seven years as Senior Advisor to the Lt. Governor.