On Texas Voting Rights, Democrats Are Fighting By Fleeing
Jemima McEvoy at Forbes and Paul DeBenedetto at NPR write that citing anonymous sources with knowledge of the situation, both The New York Times and NBC News reported Monday that a group of state lawmakers has made plans to walk out in the middle of a special legislative session ahead of expected votes on new laws regarding Texas voting rights. The lawmakers have reportedly charted two private jets that will leave from Austin and arrive in D.C., by the early evening. The Democratic representatives risk arrest with their dramatic departure under Texas state law.
Their goal is to deny Republicans the quorum they need to pass the legislation before the special session expires in 27 days, a move that requires at least 51 of the 67 Democrats in the House of Representatives to flee. While The Times reported that the number of lawmakers involved in the plan is currently unclear, NBC News said at least 58 Democrats representatives are expected to bolt, enough to successfully block a quorum.
Texas Voting Rights
The laws Republicans are trying to pass include far-reaching restrictions on voting like banning 24-hour voting and drive-through voting, creating new criminal penalties for breaking election code and giving new authority to partisan poll watchers. They are reflective of a greater nationwide push by the GOP to enhance voting restrictions following the 2020 election. Democrats, on the other hand, argue adding these new restrictions are unnecessary and serve to disenfranchise certain groups of voters.
“Today, Texas House Democrats stand united in our decision to break quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote,” read a statement from House Democratic leaders. “We are now taking the fight to our nation’s Capitol. We are living on borrowed time in Texas. We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans — and all Americans — from the Trump Republicans’ nationwide war on democracy.”
The statement was attributed to Texas House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner, Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chair Rafael Anchía, Texas Legislative Black Caucus Chair Nicole Collier, state Rep. Garnet Coleman and state Rep. Senfronia Thompson. Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa also confirmed the news, calling the GOP efforts to change voting laws an “escalation of their attacks on voters.”
“There’s no democracy without the right to vote,” Hinojosa said. “Once again, Democrats are standing strong and united to defend the right of every eligible Texas voter to make their voice heard. I’m incredibly proud of our Texas Democratic lawmakers, who continue to fight relentlessly on behalf of Texans, voters, and our democracy.”
During a voting rights “listening session” in Detroit, Vice President Harris praised the Texas Democrats, saying they were showing “extraordinary courage and commitment.”
“I applaud them for standing for the rights of all Americans and all Texans to express their voice through their vote unencumbered,” she said. “They are leaders who are marching in the path that so many others before did, when they fought and many died for our right to vote.”
Legislative Priorities Other Than Voting Rights
Republican Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan criticized the Democrats’ move, saying their departure affects legislative funding more broadly. In addition to the voting bill, a walkout would block passage of other GOP priority legislation, including a measure that would make it harder for people accused of crimes to bond out of jail.
“The Texas House will use every available resource under the Texas Constitution and the unanimously-passed House Rules to secure a quorum to meaningfully debate and consider election integrity, bail reform, benefits for retired teachers, Child Protective Services reform, Article X funding, and the other important measures Gov. Abbott placed on the special session agenda,” Phelan said. “The special session clock is ticking — I expect all Members to be present in our Capitol in order to immediately get to work on these issues.”
While fleeing the state is a rare and drastic move by the state lawmakers, it serves as only a temporary solution. Even if Democratic lawmakers stay out of the state until this special legislative session expires, Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has been supportive of these laws, could continue to call 30-day sessions or add voting restrictions to the agenda this summer. This escalated effort comes just a few weeks after House Democrats successfully staged a walkout to delay the passage of a new voting bill supported by Abbott. However, that victory was also temporary as Abbott has called a special session on that bill, which is slated to begin July 8.