‘We are not going to buckle to the big lie’: Texas Democrats urge Congress to protect voting rights

Delegation breaks quorum in Texas legislature to block Republican elections bills, but they’re ‘living on borrowed time’ under governor’s threats

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 13 July 2021 15:33 BST
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Texas Democrats in the state’s legislature have arrived in Washington DC, where they will remain through the duration of a special legislative session in their state in an effort to block passage of Republican-sponsored bills to restrict the ability to vote.

Legislation in Texas mirrors similar bills across the country introduced under the guise of protecting “election integrity” and ensuring “voter confidence” despite record-high turnout in 2020 elections and no evidence of widespread vote fraud, against the baseless narrative promoted by Donald Trump and his allies.

“We are not going to buckle to the big lie,” Texas Rep Rafael Anchía, chair of the state’s Mexican American Democratic Caucus, told reporters in Washington DC on Tuesday.

The lawmakers have broken quorum in the state House of Representatives, preventing Republicans from advancing an agenda backed by Governor Greg Abbott, who called the legislature into session after Democrats blocked passage of restrictive elections bills by staging a walkout during the regular legislative session in May.

At least 51 of the 67 Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives left the state on Monday, many of them boarding chartered planes bound for the nation’s capital.

There are 150 members in the state House, and two-thirds attendance are required to constitute a quorum. At least 57 letters have been sent to the House clerk with instructions to lock their voting machines.

While in Washington DC, the Democrats will lobby members of Congress to pass critical voting rights legislation, including the For The People Act, which was blocked in a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate, and a restoration of the Voting Rights Act to be named in honour of late civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis.

The Texas legislation follows a wave of GOP-sponsored elections bills filed in nearly every state in the wake of the 2020 presidential election. Republican lawmakers have proposed rolling back mail-in voting and early voting options, imposing restrictive voter ID laws, criminalising handing out food and water at the polls, and stripping election oversight from nonpartisan election authorities into the hands of Republican lawmakers, among other measures.

If passed, the Texas bills would add new restrictions for those who assist others in casting ballots, a provision criticised by disability advocates. It would also ban “drive-thru” voting pioneered by Harris County – one of the largest counties in the nation. It would also add restrictive ID requirements for mail-in voting and ban the distribution of mail-in ballot applications.

Governor Abbott vowed to “call a special session after special session after special session all the way up until election next year” to pass his agenda, which also includes bills aimed at “critical race theory” and prohibiting transgender athletes from school sports.

Texas Rep Rhetta Bowers, chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, said “we are living on borrowed time.”

“We can’t stay here indefinitely to run out the clock to stop Republican anti-voter bills,” she told reporters on Tuesday. “We need Congress to act now.”

Texas Rep Chris Turner told reporters on Monday that the governor’s ongoing threats underscore the urgency for federal action.

“That’s our message to Congress,” he said. “We need them to act now.”

In a major test of what remains of the landmark Voting Rights Act, the US Supreme Court has also upheld two Arizona laws that voting rights advocates argued have disproportionately hurt minority voters, a decision that will likely make it more difficult to challenge recent Republican-backed laws restricting voting access.

That decision follows a 2013 ruling that gutted critical federal oversight measures from the Voting Rights Act meant to prevent states from enacting discriminatory laws.

In the decade that followed, states closed hundreds of polling places, disproportionately targeting areas with voters of colour, and GOP lawmakers filed scores of restrictive voting laws – culminating in a massive, right-wing lobby-backed campaign to flood state legislatures in 2021 with copycat bills to “right the wrongs of November”.

Republicans have accused Democrats of “abandoning” the state and reneging on their duties as elected officials.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Rep Turner said. “We are doing our job. We were elected to represent our constituents and fight for our constituents’ interests. We aren’t going to sit in Austin in the house chamber and watch the Republican majority steamroll the voting rights of our constituents.”

Governor Abbott also has vetoed legislation to fund the state legislature in a threat to Democrats.

Rep Anchía said “when you start the process in such a coercive way … you have poisoned the whole process.”

President Joe Biden – who has faced increasing pressure from voting rights activists and Democratic lawmakers to pressure Congress and advocate for filibuster reform – will deliver remarks on voting rights from Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the president will use “every tool at his disposal” to protect voting rights.

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