Texas vote bill: House Democrats break quorum, effectively blocking passage of restrictive bill for now

Their decision effectively killed Senate Bill 7 for this year’s legislative session. But it could soon be relaunched: Republican Governor Greg Abbott tweeted Sunday evening that he was adding “electoral integrity” to a list of topics lawmakers will address in a special session he plans to call.

“Lawmakers are expected to have worked out the details when they arrive on Capitol Hill for the special session,” Abbott said.

Democrats left the chamber around 10:45 p.m. CT, leaving Republican President Dade Phelan to admit the House did not have the 100 members needed for a quorum and adjourn the House overnight.

Texas Republicans had sought to join Florida, Georgia, and other GOP-controlled states that picked up on former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election and passed new restrictions that will make the vote more difficult for some of their residents.

It is not yet known when Abbott will convene the special session. It is also not clear whether the Republicans will enter the special session set on approving SB 7 as currently drafted or whether they will seek to make other changes.

A source told CNN that Rep. Chris Turner, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, texted all of its members at 10:35 p.m. local time in which he said: “Take your key and leave the room. discreetly. Don’t go. to the gallery. Leave the building. “

Democrats ‘decision to leave the House floor and block passage of the bill came after hours of controversial debate – including Republicans refusing to answer Democrats’ questions about what the bill would do.

“We have used every tool in our toolkit to fight this bill, and tonight we brought out the latter,” said Representative Nicole Collier, who chairs the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, at a midnight press conference at a church in East Austin. “We are no longer going to stand up and let them continue to push for measures that deprive our voters of their rights.”

Collier compared SB 7 to ballot taxes and other laws that historically made it more difficult for blacks and Latin Americans to vote.

“There is no widespread electoral fraud. And so for them to mislead all of Texas into believing there is a problem – we’re going to call them up for that,” Collier said. “We may have won the war tonight, but the battle is not over.”

Republicans at Texas House said Democrats “have chosen to relinquish constitutional responsibility and leave millions of Texans unresolved on key issues,” in a posted tweet. shortly after the adjournment of the House.

Representative Trey Martinez Fischer lambasted Abbott for failing to convene special sessions in the past on Hurricane Harvey, the mass shooting in the state or the coronavirus pandemic, and said the governor’s will to Calling one to impose new voting restrictions was purely political. ambitions.

“We will not participate in our own demise,” said Martinez Fischer. “You can have the votes on the floor, but we are all equal in Federal Court.”

Immediately after Democrats smashed the House quorum on Sunday night, progressive groups celebrated the victory – though it may only be temporary.

One of the ugliest anti-election bills in the country died today in the Texas Legislature in 2021. Democratic lawmakers broke the quorum in a brave move that shows how Texans are ready to fight to protect their constitutional right to vote, ”said Sarah Labowitz. , director of policy and advocacy for the ACLU of Texas.

What was in the bill?

The measure would have made postal voting more difficult by forcing voters to provide more information, prohibiting local election officials from sending postal ballot requests to anyone who did not request one, or working with officials. voting groups that are encouraging Texans to vote by mail.

This would have banned the after-hours options and drive-thru that voting rights advocates say helped black and Latino voters in the Houston area vote in the 2020 election.

All the early votes for the week would have had to take place between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. – barring Houston from again offering a 24-hour early voting opportunity. And that would have banned early Sunday voting before 1 p.m., effectively limiting “souls to the polls” after post-church voting efforts that are popular among black churches.

SB 7 would also have made it easier to quash an election, allowing courts to reject the results if enough ballots had been illegally cast that it could have made a difference – rather than proving that the fraud had in fact altered the result of a race.

The bill would also have imposed fines of $ 1,000 per day on local election officials who fail to follow prescribed procedures for updating their voters lists, and criminal penalties on election workers who obstruct election observers. These partisan observers would have seen their power expanded, allowing them to be “close enough to see and hear” electoral activity. The bill, however, required poll observers to take an oath by promising not to harass or disrupt voters or the voting process.

The Democrats’ rare move evoked memories of 2003, when party members at Texas House fled to Oklahoma to prevent the legislature from passing new district lines to Congress – preventing state soldiers from bring them back to the Capitol to vote.

President Joe Biden on Saturday afternoon condemned the Texas measure, calling it “bogus and anti-American” and saying it “was part of an assault on democracy we’ve seen too often this year – and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown. Americans. “

This story has been updated with comments from House Democrats in Texas and House Republicans.

CNN’s Wesley Bruer and Jade Gordon contributed to this report.

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