Texas Democrats flee state to try to block GOP-backed voting restrictions

As Republican-backed voting bills move swiftly through a special session of the state legislature, Texas Democrats plan to take a break – again.

At least 58 Democratic members of the state House of Representatives are expected to leave Austin on Monday in an attempt to prevent the measures from progressing, a source close to the plans told NBC News. This unusual move, similar to what Democrats did in 2003, would cripple the chamber, halting business until lawmakers return to town or the session ends.

The majority of members plan to fly to Washington, DC, aboard two private jets chartered for the occasion and use the time there to rally support for federal voting laws, the source said. Others will make their way.

Lawmakers risk being arrested on the run. Under the Texas Constitution, the legislature requires that a quorum of two-thirds of lawmakers be present to conduct state business in either chamber. Absent lawmakers may be legally compelled to return to Capitol Hill, and the source said Democrats expect Republicans across the state to ask the Department of Public Safety to locate them.

House Democrats have already staged a successful walkout to defeat election legislation prioritized by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. Members quietly left the House floor in the dying minutes of the regular legislative session that ended in May, breaking the quorum and forcing Republicans to adjourn without passing the key agenda item. But that victory was still likely to be short-lived, as Republicans control both legislative chambers. Abbott has kept his vow to call a special session, which began on July 8.

Republicans wasted no time. Lawmakers brought forward a pair of voting measures – House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1 – on Sunday after the marathon committee hearings in both chambers, with the House hearing lasting nearly 24 hours. Both panels featured members of the public waiting for hours to testify in the middle of the night. Floor votes were due to take place this week.

Both bills would add new identification requirements for postal voting, ban certain early voting options and create new criminal penalties for electoral code violations while also empowering partisan poll observers.

To block the legislation currently pending, Democratic lawmakers would have to stay away until the end of the special session, which can last up to 30 days under the state’s constitution.

Although lawmakers did so briefly in May, breaking the quorum remains a rare step. In May 2003, more than 50 Democrats in the State House left the state in an attempt to block a proposed constituency redistribution supported by the Republican majority. After the plan was finally adopted by the State House, The Chicago Tribune reported at the time, Democratic state senators then fled to New Mexico, before a defector ultimately re-established quorum.

The long-term breakdown plan past the Senate in October. The Redistribution Bill at the time was known as House Bill 3 – the same legislative nickname as one of the vote bills in the current session.

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