Texas Democrats Walk Out to Stop Passage of New Voting Restrictions
A strict new voting bill expected to pass Sunday night has been stalled after House Democrats staged a walkout.
KXAS-TV reports that Democratic state lawmakers were sent a text message around 10:35 PM instructing them to take their keys and discreetly leave the building. According to WFAA-TV, that text was sent by State Representative Christ Turner, Chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus.
They gathered at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, about two miles away, and their absence meant their Republican collogues were left without enough House members to take a final vote on Senate Bill 7.
The bill calls for restrictions on how much power local officials have to expand voting options, and would set a cap on early voting hours. This is thought to be in response to Harris County experimenting with a 24-hour voting window last fall. The bill would also ban drive-thru voting except in cases of disabled voters qualifying for curbside voting.
A major point of controversy has been language in the bill that would provide more protection for poll watchers, and would call for jail time for election workers who reject poll watchers. That language was so concerning that the bill was updated to include a requirement that poll watchers take an oath not to disrupt the voting process or harass voters.
Democrats and voting rights advocates say those and other provisions would disproportionately burden people of color in Texas, and that there has been no evidence of significant voter fraud in Texas or elsewhere.
Republicans argue the bill is meant to prevent fraud and protect election integrity, and that the uniform voting hours would actually expand hours in some counties.
The Texas Tribune reports that Governor Greg Abbott has said he will veto part of the state budget, including pay for legislators and their staff, and that he'll call for a special session to get Senate Bill 7 passed. He's also looking to get bail reform legislation passed.
On Twitter, Abbott said he would veto Article 10 of the state budget, which funds the legislative branch.
Several states have introduced similar legislation, motivated at least in part by former President Donald Trump's continued promotion of what's been dubbed the "big lie" that the 2020 election had somehow been rigged despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
For the first time in nearly 30 years, Democrats won the presidential election in Georgia, thanks largely to grassroots organizers such as Stacey Abrams, who targeted younger voters and people of color. The surprise turnout was one factor in the fierce opposition to November's national election results.