Austin, Texas –Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives blocked passage of a bill with sweeping new voting restrictions by quitting shortly before the midnight deadline, denying majority Republicans a quorum.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott was quick to say he would call a special session to try again to get it approved, but he didn’t say when that would be the case.
The bill, known as Senate Bill 7, would have imposed a series of electoral changes that would have eliminated drive-thru voting, empowered supporter poll observers, and imposed new requirements in order to vote by mail in Texas. , which is already among the most difficult. vote the laws in the nation.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the bill seemed almost guaranteed to reach Abbott’s office. the, after Republicans used a bare-bones procedural move to suspend the rules and take action in the middle of the night over Memorial Holiday weekend.
But as Sunday night wore on the House, the GOP’s odds faltered.
About two hours before the midnight deadline to pass the bill, Democrats began to walk out of the chamber in increasing numbers, denying Republicans the quorum necessary to hold a final vote.
The walkout gave Republicans a rare defeat at the Texas Capitol where they control all levers of power and wield an overwhelming majority in both the House and Senate.
State Representative Chris Turner, the Democratic House leader, said he texted his caucus members at 10:35 p.m. telling them to leave the chamber.
“We killed this bill,” Turner said.
Republicans have shown restraint in criticizing Democrats for the move.
“I am disappointed that some members have decided to break the quorum,” said Republican Representative Briscoe Cain, who passed the bill in the House. “We all know what that meant. I understand why they did it, but we all took an oath to the Texans that we would be there to do our jobs.”
“We have been saying for so many years that we want more people to participate in our democracy. And it seems they are not,” said Democratic State Representative Carl Sherman.
This decision is reminiscent of that of 2003, when the Democrats, outnumbering the Democrats, twice broke the quorum to stop Republican efforts to redraw the electoral maps. House Democrats first left the state en masse for Ardmore, Oklahoma, only to return several days later. Senate Democrats delayed a special session that summer by traveling in groups to Albuquerque, New Mexico for several weeks.
In the end, none of those efforts worked as Democrats eventually returned to Capitol Hill and Republicans passed the bill.
Under revisions in closed-door negotiations, Republicans added language that could make it easier for a judge to overturn an election and postpone the start of the Sunday vote, when many black worshipers turn to the polls. The 67-page measure would also eliminate drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting centers, both introduced by Harris County last year. It is the largest Democratic stronghold in the state and includes Houston, its largest city.
Texas is the last major battlefield of the, prompted by former President Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Georgia and Florida also passed new voting restrictions.
President Biden on Saturday called electoral changes in those states “an attack on democracy that we have seen too often this year,” an attack that “often disproportionately targets black and brown Americans.”
CBS Dallas notes that major companies, including Texas-based American Airlines and Dell, have warned that the measures could damage democracy and the economic climate. But Republicans have ignored their objections and, in some cases, ripped off business leaders for speaking out.
Leading Republican negotiators State Sen. Bryan Hughes and Cain called the bill “one of the most comprehensive and sane electoral reform bills” in Texas history.
“Even though the national media downplay the importance of electoral integrity, the Texas legislature has not bowed to headlines or reporting corporate virtue,” they said in a joint statement.
Since Mr. Trump’s defeat, at least 14 states have passed more restrictive voting laws, according to the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice. He also counted nearly 400 bills tabled this year across the country that would restrict voting.
Texas Republican lawmakers have insisted the changes are not a response to Mr. Trump’s false allegations of widespread fraud, but are necessary to restore confidence in the voting process. But doubts over the election outcome were stoked by some of the state’s top GOP leaders, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led an unsuccessful trial in the United States Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn the election.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chaired Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign in Texas, offered a million dollar reward to anyone who could produce evidence of electoral fraud.
Non-partisan surveys of previous elections have revealed that voter fraud is extremely rare. State officials from both sides, including Texas, as well as international observers also said the 2020 election went well.