Texas Democrats Stage Dramatic Walkout, Blocking Draconian Voting Bill (For Now)

Texas Democrats Stage Dramatic Walkout, Blocking Draconian Voting Bill (For Now)
Photo:Eric Gay (AP)

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is none too pleased that Democrats have succeeded in temporarily blocking one of the most restricting voting bills in the country, dreamed up by members of the Texas GOP.

Republican lawmakers in the statehouse failed to get the bill, Senate Bill 7, to Abbott’s desk by midnight after Democrats staged a walkout Sunday night, making it so that the state legislature didn’t have enough members to hold a vote. The last-minute protest forced Republicans to miss their deadline, since the Texas legislative session ends on May 31.

“I declared Election Integrity and Bail Reform to be must-pass emergency items for this legislative session,” Abbott wrote in a statement released just before midnight on Sunday. “It is deeply disappointing and concerning for Texans hat neither will reach my desk.”

Yes, how deeply disappointing, to not be able to systematically strip Texans of their voting rights. Among many other restrictions, the wide-reaching legislation contained measures to eliminate drive-through voting and 24-hour polling centers; further limit absentee voting; and change the hours of Sunday voting, a move that targets Black churchgoers. In a closed-door session, Republicans also added language to the bill that would empower a judge to overturn an election if they believed that the number of fraudulent votes cast could alter the results; before, state law required proof that illegally cast votes had elected a wrongful victor.

The Sunday-night walkout was a last-ditch effort to delay the bill, which was widely expected to pass with little difficulty: Republicans in the House, where the bill was being debated, outnumber Democrats 83 to 67. Ahead of the walkout, Texas state Rep. Chris Turner reportedly texted his Democratic colleagues with instructions: “Members take your key and leave the chamber discretely. Do not go to the gallery. Leave the building.”

“It became obvious Republicans were going to cut off debate to ram through their vote suppression legislation,” Turner later told the Texas Tribune. “At that point we had no choice but to take extraordinary measure to protect our constituents and their right to vote.”

Despite their efforts, the bill is still likely to pass. Abbott said he would add the voting bill to the special session agenda; according to the New York Times that session could begin as early as Tuesday.

SB 7 is also just one of dozens of anti-voting rights proposals across the country. Conservative lawmakers in 28 states have advanced more than 100 pieces of anti-voting rights legislation since the November presidential election. Many of the bills use different versions of the same measures to suppress people’s vote, in addition to ones entirely specific to their states. In March, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a law limiting the secretary of state’s power in elections after the state’s current one spoke refused to cede to Republican pressure to tip the Georgia vote count toward Trump in 2020.

Republican lawmakers won’t stop until they’re certain no more fair elections happen on their watch.

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