AUSTIN, United States: Democrats in the Texas legislature used a dramatic walk-out late Sunday to torpedo Republican plans for a restrictive voting bill that President Joe Biden had decried as voter suppression and an “assault on democracy.” The law would-among other changes-make mail-in voting more difficult by requiring voters to give extra information, bar local officials from sending absentee ballot applications to anyone who did not request one, and end after-hours and drive-through voting.
Supporters say Senate Bill 7 is designed to make voting more secure, but critics say it aims to make it more cumbersome for ethnic-minority voters, who tend to vote Democrat. “Republicans came into the legislative session hell-bent on passing legislation that would rig our democracy for their team,” Democrat state representative Jessica Gonzalez tweeted after the walk-out. “Tonight, Texas Dems drew a line in the sand and made it clear that we will fight day and night, every tactic available to us, for your right to vote.”
But the bill could yet make it into law. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said after its defeat that he would call a special session to get it through the legislature. At about 10.45 pm Sunday, as the bill was discussed on the floor of the State House, the Democratic members departed the chamber en masse, leaving the body short of the required 100 members in attendance to pass anything. Local media reported that House Democratic Caucus chair Chris Turner sparked the exodus by texting all members to say: “Take your key and leave the chamber discretely. Do not go to the gallery. Leave the building.”
The session was then adjourned, ending any hopes of the bill passing in this legislative term. However, Abbott, a Republican who backs the election changes, raised the possibility of a special session to push them through. “Election Integrity & Bail Reform were emergency items for this legislative session. They STILL must pass,” he tweeted. “They will be added to the special session agenda.” In a tweet, Texas House Republicans decried the walk-out.
“The Texas House Republican Caucus condemns the actions of their colleagues in the Texas House who chose to vacate their Constitutional responsibility and leave millions of Texans without resolution on key issues in the final hours of the legislative session,” they said. Republicans say the bill is needed to head off election fraud, as claimed by Donald Trump in his repeated false assertions that he beat Biden last November and that the presidential election was stolen from him.
Since that election, many Republican-led states have taken up bills that make voting more difficult. Georgia, which traditionally votes Republican but sided with Biden in November, was among the first to adopt such a law, in March.
Biden on Saturday said the Texas bill was “part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year-and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans.” Biden has called on Congress to pass two bills designed to protect and favor people’s right to vote without restrictions. Democrats’ slim majority in the legislature has prevented the bills from being passed. —AFP