U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar is teaming up with the Texas Democratic Party on an ambitious voter registration push ahead of next year’s state and federal elections to help combat what she said is an attempt by Republicans to derail the country’s democratic voting process.

Rep. Veronica Escobar

The effort, called Project Texas, comes after Texas House Democrats walked off the chamber floor in the waning days of the Legislative session late last month to break quorum and deny the Republican majority a vote on an omnibus voting bill that opponents say will hinder voter turnout among minority groups and others.

“What we are seeing unfold in the state of Texas truly is terrifying,” Escobar, D-El Paso, said during a virtual press conference Tuesday. “It is a tremendous threat to our democracy.”

Of the unregistered voters in Texas, nearly 2 million are inclined to vote for Democrats, according to the Texas Democratic Party, which said the price tag for the project is about $1.7 million.

“Of the target voters we’re aiming to register, more than half are Latino — so we are building out a plan that is tailored to Latino communities and weaving a strong Spanish-language component throughout our outreach,” state Democrats say on their website. 

The targeted population is also about a fifth Black and one quarter is 25 or younger, according to the party.

In a separate email to supporters, Escobar said she’ll fund the effort locally through her campaign, which set a goal of registering 15,000 new voters for the November 2022 election. El Paso County added more than 30,000 registered voters between the 2018 and 2020 general elections, even though registration efforts were hampered by COVID-19.

Escobar’s campaign office has hired a full-time staffer to help spearhead El Paso’s contribution to the statewide effort, she added.

“We will redouble our efforts to make sure that we provide avenues to the ballot box for millions of Texans,” she said. “For me, it starts in my community of El Paso.” 

The voting bill the Democrats thwarted, Senate Bill 7 by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, would have limited hours during early voting, eliminated drive through voting and broadened the powers of partisan poll watchers, among other things. Democrats said the legislation tried to continue a trend started by conservative lawmakers in other states, notably Florida and Georgia, which have passed similar bills in the aftermath of former President Trump reelection loss last year.

But Hughes defended his legislation and said it was needed to bring conformity to the state’s elections. The bill would ensure “every Texan has a fair and equal opportunity to vote, regardless of where they live in the state,” he said in April when he presented his bill. “Overall, this bill is designed to address areas throughout the process where bad actors can take advantage, so Texans can feel confident that their elections are fair, honest and open,”

The unveiling of Project Texas comes as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is still considering what items he’ll ask lawmakers to address during special sessions of the 87th Texas Legislature. Lawmakers are guaranteed to be back in Austin this fall for the decennial task of redistricting, which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But Abbott hasn’t said when he will call members back to Austin for other issues.

Julián Aguilar is editor of El Paso Matters and a longtime border journalist.