Texas Democrats flee state to prevent passage of GOP voter restrictions

Lawmakers risk arrest by leaving state

John Bowden
Tuesday 13 July 2021 00:23 BST
Kamala Harris praises Texas lawmakers who fled to prevent Republican-led bills
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Louise Thomas

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Democratic lawmakers in Texas’ legislature are fleeing the state in two chartered flights to Washington DC to prevent the passage of Republican-led bills aimed at restricting mail-in ballots and some early voting procedures.

A coalition of members of the Texas state House announced the move in a statement on Monday. Their flight from the state will prevent the legislature from reaching a quorum needed to pass the bills; while in Washington, members of the group will attempt to lobby their counterparts in the nation’s capital to take greater actions to protect voting rights.

Vice President Kamala Harris praised the lawmakers’ courage during remarks to journalists in Detroit, while adding that fighting for voting rights was “as American as apple pie.”

The Democrats’ move comes amid a wave of GOP-led efforts around the country to restrict voting in various ways, as well as the campaign from progressive Democrats to reform the US voting system at the federal level, which has stalled amid a refusal from centrist Democrats in the Senate to change or abandon the filibuster.

Republicans in the state will be able to ask the state’s Department of Public Safety to arrest any who remain in Texas, though any who are in Washington would likely be outside of their colleagues’ reach.

The lawmakers are hoping to block the legislation through at least part of the special legislative session called by Gov Greg Abbott to pass the bills, after Democrats used a similar tactic earlier this year to prevent them from receiving a vote in the general session.

If passed, the bills would add new restrictions for those who assist others in casting ballots, a provision criticized by disability advocates. It would also ban “drive-thru” voting pioneered by Harris County in the November elections and 2020 primaries, as well as a 24-hour early voting period the county allowed at some precincts last year.

Other provisions in the bills would institute new identification requirements for mail-in voting and ban the distribution of mail-in ballot applications. Some of the more hardline aspects of the legislation were reportedly removed in recent weeks, such as restrictions for Sunday voting hours which activists decried as a direct response to efforts by Black churches to transport voters to the polls on Sundays.

President Joe Biden is due to address the nation about voting rights on Tuesday, amid calls from progressives for the White House to take a more active role in pursuing passage of legislation protecting voting rights at the federal level.

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