J Genre / A.P.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives made a dramatic, last-minute exit Sunday night to prevent one of the most prohibited voting laws in the United States from passing before midnight.
The uprising sparked widespread action known as Senate Bill 7, which reduced voting hours, empowered referendum observers, and withdrew the means of voting in Texas, which already contain some of the nation’s toughest voting laws.
For Democrats, the victory was quick: Republican Greg Abbott, who prioritized new voting laws in Texas, soon announced that he would order lawmakers back to the state capital for a special session. However, he did not say when that would happen.
“We have been saying for years that more people should participate in our democracy, and it seems that this is not the case,” said Carl Sherman, a Democrat.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the bill was guaranteed to reach Abbott’s desk. The Texas Senate approved a referendum before sunrise, after the Republicans used plain-knuckle procedure to suspend rules over the weekend and take this action at midnight.
But as the night wore on in the congregation, the GOP’s chances were shaken. About two hours before the midnight deadline, a large number of Democrats began to leave the room, denying the Republicans’ demand for a final vote. This walkout gave the Republicans a rare defeat in the Texas Capital, where they control every power and have an overwhelming majority in both the House and the Senate.
State Representative Chris Turner, chairman of the House of Representatives, said he sent a text message to members of his caucus at 10:35 p.m.
“We killed that bill,” Turner said.
Republicans showed restraint in criticizing Democrats for the move.
“I am disappointed that some members decided to break the quorum,” said Republican State Rep. Prisco Cain. “We all know what this means. I understand why they tangled it, but we all swore to the Texans that we would be here to do our jobs.”
The move is reminiscent of 2003, when Democrats twice broke the deadlock to stop Republican efforts to recreate voting maps. House Democrats first largely fled the state of Artmore, Oklahoma. The Senate Democrats delayed a special session that summer by traveling several weeks to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In the end, the Democrats eventually returned to the Capitol and no effort was forthcoming as the Republicans passed the bill.
Under amendments during the closed-door talks, Republicans added language that would make it easier for a judge to thwart the election, postponing the start of Sunday’s vote, as many black church members go to the polls. The 67-page move will also eliminate drive-through voting and 24-hour polling stations in Harris County, the state’s largest Democratic stronghold, which was unveiled last year.
Texas is the last major battleground in GOP’s nationwide efforts to tighten voting laws driven by former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Georgia and Florida have also passed new voting restrictions, with President Joe Biden on Saturday likening Texas’ bill to an “attack on democracy” compared to electoral changes in those states.
The vote in the Texas Senate came shortly after the final version of the bill was unveiled Saturday. At midnight, Republicans used their majority to suspend the rules barring voting on a bill that had not been published for 24 hours, while Democrats protested that it violated the protocol, which they rejected and it was public time to reconsider the language first.