Texas Senate passes voting bill that led Dems to flee state

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Texas Senate passes voting bill that led Dems to flee state

The Texas state Senate approved a sweeping election reform bill Tuesday night, one day after dozens of House Democrats fled the state to prevent the chamber from taking up the legislation.

The state Senate approved the bill on an 18-4 party-line vote. Nine Senate Democrats had joined 51 of their House colleagues in hightailing it to Washington, DC, though this was not enough to deny the upper chamber a quorum.

However, the legislation is now stalled due to the absence of a quorum in the House.

Republicans say the measures in the bill — which include ending drive-thru and 24-hour polling places, banning ballot drop boxes, and empowering partisan poll watchers — are designed to ensure the integrity of the vote by preventing voter fraud. Democrats say they make it harder for poor people and minorities to cast ballots.

Joined by fellow Texas state House Democrats, Rep. Chris Turner (TX-101) speaks during a news conference on voting rights outside the U.S. Capitol on July 13, 2021 in Washington, DC
Joined by fellow Texas state House Democrats, Rep. Chris Turner (TX-101) speaks during a news conference on voting rights outside the U.S. Capitol on July 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Most of the Democratic legislators flew to Washington on two chartered planes Monday, defying threats by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to have them arrested and forced into the legislative chamber for this month’s special session. Abbott has vowed to continue to call special sessions until next year’s elections, if necessary, until the election reform bill is passed.

Earlier Tuesday, the Texas House voted 76-4 to direct its Sergeant-at-Arms to send for all absentee members by “warrant of arrest if necessary.” After the vote, the chamber doors were locked. Four House Democrats who did not go to Washington were among the lawmakers still inside, while the voting mechanisms on the desks of those absent were locked.

State Rep. Eddie Morales, one of the four Democrats who remained, told reporters it was unlikely authorities dispatched to track down any absent lawmakers would travel outside the state to do so.

Demonstrators are gathered outside of the Texas State Capitol during a voting rights rally on the first day of the 87th Legislature's special session on July 8, 2021 in Austin, Texas
Demonstrators are gathered outside of the Texas State Capitol during a voting rights rally on the first day of the 87th Legislature’s special session on July 8, 2021 in Austin, Texas.
Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images

“I was told they will go to your home back in your district, they will go to your place of work, they will go to your apartment in Austin or wherever you live close by when you’re in session,” he said. “And also family and friends that they may know of.”

While in Washington, the Texas Democrats have pushed for Congress to pass two pieces of federal election reform legislation: the For The People Act, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. They met Tuesday with Vice President Kamala Harris and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

“These folks are going to be remembered on the right side of history,” Schumer told reporters. “The governor and the Republican legislators will be remembered on the dark and wrong side of history.”

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