Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the 38th Governor of California, were chosen to receive the inaugural Jack Brooks Award, honoring leaders who elevated the needs of voters ahead of partisan politics to make it easier for citizens to cast ballots in 2020.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hidalgo, a Democrat, worked with other Harris County officials to find creative solutions for voters, including drive-through voting and early ballot drop-off, more in-person early voting locations and 24-hour voting at some locations. The result was the highest turnout in the county since 1992, with 68% of registered voters casting ballots, for a total of 1.6 million. Turnout of both Democrats and Republicans surged.
Through the Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy at the University of Southern California, the former governor, a Republican, awarded $2.5 million in nonpartisan Democracy Grants to fund new polling places and increase voter access in eight states with histories of voter suppression as identified in the Voting Rights Act.
Two of the 33 grants went to Cameron and Young counties in Texas. In Cameron County, Trump gained 20,000 more votes for an increase of 10 percentage points over his 2016 results. Again, turnout was up overall. In Young County, turnout also increased. The grants helped these counties expand the number of voting locations, which made voting more convenient and accessible to residents.
The work of both Hidalgo and Schwarzenegger demonstrated that increasing voter turnout and making it easier for everyone to vote benefits both parties and should not be viewed simplistically as a partisan issue that only benefits Democrats.
The mission of the Jack Brooks Foundation, in honor of the late Rep. Jack Brooks of Texas, is to develop independent, nonpartisan initiatives to empower, educate and motivate Americans to vote. Rep. Brooks served 42 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, helping to craft the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He used to say, “You ought to be interested in helping people, but you ought to be interested in helping everybody.” That is precisely the mission of the JBF: to help everybody vote.
Lina Hidalgo and Arnold Schwarzenegger were both very frank when they received their awards and discussed voting on April 27.
“Voting is one of the most important rights we have as Americans, and we need to do everything we can to stand up against those trying to restrict polling access… Democracy is not a spectator sport,” the former governor said. “It’s all about getting off your couches and go out and do something about it… People have to recognize the fact that they have tremendous power. So go and use that power. Don’t wait for politicians to do their job, but force them into doing their job… It’s not really a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s a people’s issue!”
Lina Hidalgo supported those sentiments.
“Harris County’s record-setting participation in the 2020 elections didn’t happen by chance,” she said. “It happened because leaders throughout our community put personal agendas aside to make sure every eligible person had every opportunity to participate in our cherished democracy… democracy works best when everyone works for democracy.”
Hidalgo added that she hopes “to be able to move the exercise of elections, the exercise of our civic duty and right to vote outside of the political sphere… It isn’t about one party winning and one party losing. It’s about democracy winning.”
The presentation of the awards and the entire 25-minute discussion between Hidalgo and Schwarzenegger, hosted by CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca, is available online.