Texas Democrats filed out of the state House’s chamber just before midnight Sunday to protest a voting bill, denying Republicans a quorum and forcing Governor Abbott to announce he will call for a special session to pass it.
The bill would ostensibly tighten voting laws and ensure election integrity. President Joe Biden and state Democrats are decrying the law as racist and an attempt to discourage minorities from voting.
“Election Integrity & Bail Reform were emergency items for this legislative session,” Abbott tweeted out Sunday night. “They STILL must pass. They will be added to the special session agenda. Legislators will be expected to have worked out the details when they arrive at the Capitol for the session.”
In a statement, the Republican governor explained that he “declared Election Integrity and Bail Reform to be must-pass emergency items for this legislative session” adding that it is “deeply disappointing and concerning for Texans that neither will reach my desk. Ensuring the integrity of our elections and reforming a broken bail system remain emergencies in Texas.”
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) May 31, 2021
Senate Bill 7 would reportedly clean up the election process in the state by eliminating drive-thru voting, implementing new stricter requirements to vote by mail, and by giving more power for oversight to poll watchers. Texas already has some of the strictest requirements for voting in the nation. This bill seeks to eliminate loopholes and vague areas of the law to solidify voter integrity.
— Jen Rice (@jen_rice_) May 31, 2021
The Texas Senate passed the bill which also includes a new ID requirement for mail-in ballots according to the Texas Tribune. It would also eliminate 24-hour polling centers. Both of those measures were introduced in the state’s largest Democratic stronghold, Harris County, last year.
A special session could be convened as early as June 1. Sunday’s walkout prevented a 100-member quorum from taking place.
— Lauren “Vaxxed to the Max” McGaughy 🌟 (@lmcgaughy) May 31, 2021
Leading the walkout was state Rep. Chris Turner, the Democratic House leader. He reportedly sent a directive to Democrats at approximately 10:35 p.m. telling them: “Members, take your key and leave the chamber discreetly. Do not go to the gallery. Leave the building.”
Later, Turner issued a statement that said it “became obvious Republicans were going to cut off debate to ram through their vote suppression legislation. At that point, we had no choice but to take extraordinary measures to protect our constituents and their right to vote.”
“We used all the tools in our toolbox to fight this bill, and tonight we pulled out that last one,” asserted Rep. Nicole Collier, who chairs the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. “We are no longer going to stand and let them continue to push measures that disenfranchise our voters,” she proclaimed at a midnight news conference held at a church in East Austin.
(Video Credit: AP)
President Biden stepped into the debate and spoke out against the bill in a statement on Saturday: “It’s part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year — and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans.” He also slammed Georgia’s new voting laws.
State Rep. Dade Phelan, the Republican House speaker, blasted Democrats for walking out and not voting on other bills that have bipartisan support.
“Texans shouldn’t have to pay the consequences of these members’ actions — or in this case, inaction,” he declared. He remarked that the majority of Texans support “making our elections stronger and more secure.”
“I am disappointed that some members decided to break quorum,” noted Republican state Representative Briscoe Cain. “We all know what that meant. I understand why they were doing it, but we all took an oath to Texans that we would be here to do our jobs.” State Senator Bryan Hughes and Cain stated that the bill was “one of the most comprehensive and sensible election reform bills” in Texas’ history.
“Even as the national media minimizes the importance of election integrity, the Texas Legislature has not bent to headlines or corporate virtue signaling,” Cain and Hughes said in a joint statement.
“We’d be better off if the President cared as much about our Southern Border as he does #TX elections,” Hughes tweeted.
The truth is: #SB7 is a strong bill that gives accessibility & security to Texas elections.
— Senator Bryan Hughes (@SenBryanHughes) May 29, 2021
This is not the first time that this has happened in Texas. In 2003, Democrats broke quorum twice in an attempt to stop Republicans from redrawing voting maps. They left the state en masse for Ardmore, Oklahoma, and then returned several days later. Senate Democrats delayed a special session that summer by trotting off to Albuquerque, New Mexico for several weeks. They eventually had to return to the Capitol and the Republicans passed the bill.
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