Texas Democrats stage walk out to protest strict voting bill and deny GOP opportunity to pass it

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he would call legislators back in for a special session and settle the vote

Graig Graziosi
Monday 31 May 2021 16:17 BST
Beto O'Rourke explains how election laws in Texas are designed to suppress Black and Latino votes

Democratic lawmakers in Texas staved off – perhaps only temporarily – the passage of a restrictive new voting rights bill pushed by Republican legislators in the state.

Democrats in the Texas House managed to block the passage of Senate Bill 7, known as the "Election Integrity Protection Act," by walking off the floor in the middle of a debate on Sunday night.

By doing so, the lawmakers broke quorum, which forced the Texas House of Representatives to adjourn.

Democrats in the Texas Senate pleaded with their Republican colleagues not to advance the bill, arguing that its provisions were clearly a response to the explosive voter turnout in the largely Democratic Harris County, near Houston, which is home to a large population of non-white voters.

They claimed the bill was an attempt to make it harder to voters to actually cast their ballots by placing a number of hurdles in front of individuals who wish to vote by mail or those who lack transportation.

Despite the Democrats having successfully stopped the vote on Sunday night, Governor Greg Abbott stated his intent to drag the lawmakers back to the floor in a special session.

"Ensuring the integrity of our elections and reforming a broken bail system remain emergencies in Texas," Mr Abbott said shortly after the House abruptly adjourned just before 11 p.m. "Legislators will be expected to have worked out the details when they arrive at the Capitol for the special session."

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the governor did not set a specific date for the special session.

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, of Austin, was one of the Democrats who walked off the floor.

"I'm proud to be one of the Democrats who walked off the floor to kill the voter suppression bill," he tweeted. "When we are outnumbered, we have to use every tool to block this attempt to scare and suppress Black and Brown Texas voters. We made good trouble tonight."

Republicans were predictably not enthused by the disruption to the legislative process.

"We’re elected to show up for work – to be present even when it's hard. Tonight the Democrats quit their jobs & abandoned their constituents. Make no mistake, we’ll soon complete the important work Texans elected us to do," Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, tweeted.

Before walking out, the Democrats tried to stall the bill's passage by raising parliamentary objections, essentially trying to stop the bill by leaning on process technicalities.

Those measures were insufficient, which prompted the walkout and the breaking of quorum.

The Democrats have made voiced numerous objections to the bill, though they focused on two late-additions to the legislation added by a conference committee, which they claim shut them out of the decision process.

One of the additions Democrats objected to removed the requirement for election challengers to provide proof that fraudulent voting actually changed the outcome of an election. Under SB7, challengers would only have to prove that it was more likely than not that fraud caused a candidate to win when they otherwise would not have. If that condition is met, a judge could legally rule to overturn an election.

While that sounds reasonable, it's important to note that the change shifts the responsibility of an election challenger drastically; rather than having to find actual proof, under SB7 they just need to convince a judge – who may or may not be ideologically in line with them – that fraud was "more likely than not" involved in a candidate's loss.

The bill also says that the "court may declare the election void without attempting to determine how individual voters voted."

Rep. Julie Johnson, a Democrat, said the "implications of this are unthinkable."

Travis Clardy, a Republican lawmaker, defended the provisions.

"You still have to prove fraud and all of those elements," he said.

He claimed that judges would not have to determine how individuals voted "so long as you can prove they cast more illegal ballots than the number by which the contestant lost."

Democrats also condemned the inclusion of a provision that banned early voting sites from opening before 1pm on Sundays, claiming it was a clear attack on "Souls to the Polls" events in which Black church leadership gather their congregants during services and drive them to the polls to vote.

The bill also requires anyone using a vehicle to transport more than two people to a voting place to fill out a registration form. This would place further hurdles in the paths of churches or other organisations who carpool members to the polls, and would make it even more difficult for individuals without vehicles to vote.

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