Republicans thwarted in effort to restrict voting rights in Texas

Democrats walk out of chamber before vote on proposed election changes

Voters at a drive-thru voting station in Houston, Texas, on October  23rd.  Republicans across the United States are engaged in a drive to overhaul elections and limit voting. Photograph: The New York Times

Voters at a drive-thru voting station in Houston, Texas, on October 23rd. Republicans across the United States are engaged in a drive to overhaul elections and limit voting. Photograph: The New York Times

 

A restrictive voting bill in Texas failed to pass on Sunday night after Democrats walked out of the House chamber before a midnight deadline.

Republican governor Greg Abbott swiftly said he would call a special session to try passing a voting bill again but did not say when.

Democratic state representative Carl Sherman said: “We’ve said for so many years that we want more people to participate in our democracy. And it just seems that’s not the case.”

The bill, known as Senate Bill 7, would have imposed a raft of election changes that eliminate drive-thru voting, empower partisan poll watchers and impose new requirements in order to cast a ballot by mail in Texas, which already has some of toughest voting laws in the nation.

About two hours before a midnight deadline to pass the bill, Democrats began filing out of the chamber in greater and greater numbers, denying Republicans the quorum necessary to hold a final vote.

The walkout handed Republicans a rare defeat in the Texas Capitol where they control every lever of power and wield overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate.

Republican state representative Briscoe Cain said: “I am disappointed that some members decided to break quorum.

“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.”

The move was reminiscent of 2003 when outnumbered Democrats twice broke quorum to stop Republican efforts to redraw voting maps.

Ultimately, neither effort worked as the Democrats eventually returned to the Capitol and Republicans passed the bill.

Under revisions during closed-door negotiations, Republicans added language that could make it easier for a judge to overturn an election and pushed back the start of Sunday voting, when many black churchgoers head to the polls.

The 67-page measure would also eliminate drive-thru voting and 24-hour polling centres, both of which Harris County, the state’s largest Democratic stronghold, introduced last year.

Texas is the last big battleground in the GOP’s nationwide efforts to tighten voting laws, driven by former president Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Georgia and Florida have also passed new voting restrictions, and president Joe Biden on Saturday unfavourably compared Texas’s bill to election changes in those states as “an assault on democracy”.

The vote in the Texas Senate came just a short time after a final version of the bill had been made public on Saturday.

Around midnight, Republicans wielded their majority to suspend rules that would normally prohibit taking a vote on a bill that had not been posted for 24 hours, which Democrats protested as a breach of protocol that denied them and the public time to review the language first. – PA