It's Nothing New, Just a Different Format
by Alisha Darden
October 15, 2020
This interview with Alisha Darden, candidate for the 153rd Civil District Court, was conducted and condensed by franknews.
Alisha | I am running for the 153rd Civil District Court. I have been an attorney for the last twenty years. I have practiced family, civil, criminal law. I've been on both sides — I have represented both plaintiffs and the defense. I was an administrative law judge for five years, where I would handle state agency disputes.
frank | What does it mean to sit on a civic court? What sort of cases do you see?
A civil district court is a catch-all court. If you're in a larger county in Texas, issues are divided between different courts. There are separate courts that will handle family matters, there are courts that will handle probate matters, and there are courts that will handle criminal matters. A civil court will then handle anything else, which will mostly include personal injury, contract, and other civil disputes. In smaller counties, a civil district court will hear everything.
Everybody else is reading a lot about Texas, especially since Governor Abbott issued an executive order requiring counties to stop accepting hand-delivered absentee ballots at more than one location.
Texas is obviously massive, both in scope and in size. The idea of eliminating polling places reads really scary. What is it like where you are? What does the reality of that law look like for your race and for Tarrant County, specifically?
Houston is one example that is getting a lot of attention. Houston has a population of over 4 million people, and if you ever been to Houston, you know that Houston is incredibly spread out. Having a single place to drop off ballots is clearly meant to deter people who would normally vote by mail, and it's kind of scary.
There are several cities that make up Tarrant County. Choosing to have a ballot drop-off location in only one of those towns, is going to cause impediments for people to get their vote in. Now you're talking about traffic, you are talking about figuring out a way to get older people who maybe don't drive to the location, you are talking about long lines, and you are talking about the threat of COVID. There are a lot of different issues that arise from not being able to say, I'm going to do what I normally do, and either drop off or mail my ballot.
And on top of that, you have the president saying, "don't trust the mail." That's another impediment. People don't trust the USPS to get their ballot in on time, and people are assuming that their vote might not be counted, or that their vote may be lost.
These things cause people to question, am I even going to vote this year? That is a real concern.
And people have been trying legally to respond to the governor's closing of some of these polling places, but nothing has worked. Is that correct?
In terms of your campaign, what do you suggest for other people who are trying to vote? How do you encourage people to work around these new impediments?
Well, we are continuing to do what we have been doing. We tell people to vote early. We tell people to make sure when they get their ballot, they put it back into the mail as early as possible. We're educating people around the mistrust of the post office.
We are trying to get the word out that if people feel that their rights have been affected, the Tarrant County Democratic Party has a hotline (844-TX-VOTES) that you can call.
We suggest that people volunteer as a poll worker. We try to keep educating people on the matter at hand.
Anecdotally, does it feel like people are determined to find a way to participate regardless of what's going on?
Personally, I feel like there's a lot of excitement. There is a lot of excitement that we can see on social media. There are a lot of people coming by the Democratic office to pick up literature and to educate themselves on who's on the ballot.
A lot of people are upset that the government is trying to prevent them from exercising their rights. People are not going to let the Governor's executive order hinder them.
Texas historically has been really affected by things like redlining and gerrymandering — things that are intentionally oppressive and suppressive in terms of voter participation. So this effort doesn't necessarily seem new, but it seems invigorated since Texas has become closer to being a purple state than ever before. Does the momentum feel like it's still moving in that direction?
Yeah, it does. As you said, it's nothing new, it's just a different format. I think that when the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act, Texas took a hit in protecting voters rights. Texas was one of the states that had to report when they made changes to their voting laws and changes to the voting map itself.
I think that voter suppression is becoming more prolific now because those in charge are saying, we don't have to check in with anybody, nobody is going to check in on us, so we can do whatever we think is best. And that's what the governor argues — if you listen to the Governor, he claims that his policies will protect voter's rights. Actually, His policies may prevent voters from voting.
What are the demographics like in your county? Have there been any important trends in voting?
29% of the population in Tarrant County is Hispanic. Tarrant County is becoming more brown than it has been in years. We have also seen people moving in from more liberal states, like California and New York, because of our economy. People who think differently than conservatives from traditionally red states are moving in. That new population, combined with a growing minority population, has led us to believe that we might actually be able to win as Democrats for the first time in the past 30 years.
I don't know what y'all are reading, but one of the biggest things is that for us, it does not feel impossible to win anymore. Will it take another election cycle? It may. But that's why I ran.
One, I felt like it was time for some representation in Tarrant County as a Democrat. Two, it is looking more and more possible that people with other ideas and thoughts can actually succeed here. The last person the Sisters in Law ran for a judge, Maryellen, came within four or five percentage points of winning. Beto, when he ran for Senate, actually won Tarrant County. Things seem to be changing.