AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Democrats on Monday cheered their derailment of a restrictive voting bill, while warning of the continued threat of the legislation that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to bring back during a planned special session.
“Today is a great day, but I can’t help but feeling bitter, disappointed, hurt,” Texas state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat, told CNN on Monday.
Democrats walked off the state House floor late Sunday night, leaving majority Republicans without the quorum they needed to approve the bill before a midnight deadline. This effectively killed the bill for this year’s legislative session, but Abbott has already tweeted that he is adding “election integrity” to a list of topics lawmakers will address in a special session he plans to call.
Martinez Fischer pointed to the bill’s timing leading up to Memorial Day, “a day we celebrate and honor men and women who put their lives on the line to defend freedom and democracy.”
“But yet under Senate Bill 7, the bill that we killed last night, those same soldiers could not come home and go vote after walking out of their church because of the provisions in this bill,” he continued. “That’s how bad it is — we can defend democracy abroad, but when we come home we’re going to suppress their vote.”
The measure would make mail-in voting more difficult by requiring voters to supply more information, prohibiting local elections officials from sending out absentee ballot applications to anyone who has not requested one or from working with get-out-the-vote groups that are encouraging Texans to vote by mail. Among other restrictions, it would bar early voting on Sundays before 1 p.m., which effectively limits the “souls to the polls” after-church get-out-the-vote efforts that are popular among Black churches.
Texas state Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat, defended the move by his colleagues to CNN on Monday and said although Abbott has the ability to call a special session, “at a certain point you have to draw a line and we’ve got to decide what’s right and what’s wrong.”
“What’s wrong is to take away the access to the ballot box, and all of us on the Democratic side of the aisle that chose this path knew the consequences, and we were willing to risk them,” Moody said on “New Day.”
Democratic state Rep. Nicole Collier said later Monday that for Abbott to call a special session “over a political move is disheartening and it’s a shame for Texas.”
But asked by CNN whether her caucus could again walk off the floor to block the measure during a special session, Collier said the move is “a nuclear option and of course you always want to try to work and have collaboration with your colleagues.”
Abbott in a statement on Monday referenced a special session as the next arena for the voting bill.
“Ensuring the integrity of our elections and reforming a broken bail system remain emergencies in Texas, which is why these items, along with other priority items, will be added to the special session agenda,” he said. “I expect legislators to have worked out their differences prior to arriving back at the Capitol so that they can hit the ground running to pass legislation related to these emergency items and other priority legislation. During the special session, we will continue to advance policies that put the people of Texas first.”
Martinez Fischer recounted how the decision to break quorum came to be in light of an emotionally intense Sunday afternoon meeting with African American, Latino and Asian American Pacific Islander lawmakers, followed by an evening whipping votes among their fellow Democrats.
“We hit a tipping point, and senior members — African Americans, Latinos who have been in this situation before — said, ‘The time is now,’ ” he said.
He pointed to President Joe Biden on Saturday condemning the Texas measure as “un-American,” and called for federal voter protections, which are currently stalled in Congress.
“With the eyes of the nation watching us, we knew that we had to rise up and demonstrate to our friends in Washington, and as I said last night, Mr. President we humbly ask you for a federal solution, please give us federal voting rights act,” Martinez Fischer said. “What we did last night is the equivalent of us crawling on our knees to federal officials to tell (them), the time to act is now — if not Texas, then when?”
A sweeping proposal to rewrite U.S. election laws, the For the People Act, does not appear to have the 60 votes needed to pass the U.S. Senate and has no Republican support. Senate Democrats privately signaled concerns earlier this month about pushing ahead with a vote on the voting rights and ethics bill that had become a top priority for Democratic leaders and progressive outside groups — at least without first making changes.
Charlie Bonner, communications director of the voter engagement group Move Texas, said Monday that despite the promised Texas special session that is slated to include consideration of the bill, the bill’s stalling provides time for greater public awareness and input on the bill’s contents.
“What that provides us is time for the public to review these materials, for the public to have input on this massive overhaul of the election system that these lawmakers were trying to jam through in the middle of the night,” Bonner said, adding that “the public is going to see what they’re doing. And now the eyes of the world are watching the Texas legislature.”
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