Democrats won a round Sunday night in their efforts to block a Texas election reform law.
However, after a stunt in which Democrats left the state House chamber to short-circuit the bill’s expected passage, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, an outspoken conservative, called for a special session during which the legislation could be considered.
“I declared Election Integrity and Bail Reform to be must-pass emergency items for this legislative session. It is deeply disappointing and concerning for Texans that neither will reach my desk,” Abbott said in a statement posted on his website.
“Ensuring the integrity of our elections and reforming a broken bail system remain emergencies in Texas. They will be added to the special session agenda. Legislators will be expected to have worked out the details when they arrive at the Capitol for the special session,” Abbott said.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) May 31, 2021
Although the Texas state Senate had approved the bill Saturday, the House was deliberating Sunday as the legislative clock ran down. The legislative session in Texas — an eventful one by any measure — ended at midnight.
Democrats walked out at about 10:45 p.m. Central Time, meaning the House did not have the 100 members necessary for a quorum. It then had to adjourn, according to CNN.
Sawyer Hackett, executive director of former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro’s People First Future group, tweeted a photo of the chamber in a post that referred to the legislation as a “voter suppression bill.”
WOW. Dozens of Texas House Democrats walked out of the chamber to break quorum on SB7, Republicans’ voter suppression bill.
Only an hour and change until the session expires. pic.twitter.com/V8ojDV4EBj
— Sawyer Hackett (@SawyerHackett) May 31, 2021
Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan said the decision by Democrats to abruptly leave the chamber killed several bills that Democrats had joined Republicans in supporting.
“Texans shouldn’t have to pay the consequences of these members’ actions — or in this case, inaction,” he said, adding that majority of Texans support “making our elections stronger and more secure,” according to The Washington Post.
According to The New York Times, state Rep. Chris Turner, the House Democratic Caucus chairman, texted fellow Democrats at 10:35 p.m., telling them, “Take your key and leave the chamber discretely. Do not go to the gallery. Leave the building.”
The “key” referred to the mechanism Texas lawmakers use to lock their votes in after they’re cast.
In a statement early Monday, Turner told The Times the tactic was necessary.
“It became obvious Republicans were going to cut off debate to ram through their vote suppression legislation,” he said. “At that point, we had no choice but to take extraordinary measures to protect our constituents and their right to vote.”
The bill would give new access rights to partisan poll watchers and make it easier to overturn election results if they are marred by fraudulent voting.
Election officials could face charges for sending mail voting applications to anyone who did not ask for one. Drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting centers would both be eliminated.
The Texas proposal was attacked by President Joe Biden as “an assault on democracy.” He said the provisions in the bill were “disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans.”
Republicans said the bill was not an attempt to revisit the 2020 election.
“This isn’t about who won or who lost, it’s really to make the process better,” State Sen. Bryan Hughes has said, according to The Times. “We want to make the elections more accessible and more secure, make them smoother.”
State Rep. Briscoe Cain, who sponsored the bill in the House, said late Sunday, according to The Times, that the goal was to be sure that “conduct of elections be uniform and consistent throughout the state, to reduce the likelihood of fraud and the conduct of elections, to protect the secrecy the ballot, promote voter access and ensure that all legally cast ballots are counted.”
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