Texas Democrats Lead By Example In Facing Assault On Republican Voting Rights | Voting rights in the United States
For nearly five months, Democrats in state legislatures across the country have struggled to do everything possible to stop an unprecedented attack of new voting restrictions by Republicans.
They delivered searing speeches in state legislatures. They have supported protests and have even been arrested for demonstrating against the bills. They sued new restrictions almost immediately after signing. But despite their best efforts, Democrats were unable to prevent new voting restrictions from being put in place in states such as Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Iowa and Montana, where Republicans have used their vote. legislative majority to pass bills.
But on Sunday night, something different happened in Texas.
As Republicans were on the verge of passing one of the country’s most restrictive new election laws, Democrats in the state House of Representatives walked out of the legislature, denying Republicans a quorum and striking down the legislation. Governor Greg Abbott got angry at this development and pledged to call a special session to pass the bill.
Even though the victory was short-lived, the walkout still marked an important moment for Democrats. It was their most muscular effort yet to stop Republicans’ efforts to make voting more difficult. These tough efforts come at a particularly crucial time for Democrats as they come under pressure to change the rules of the U.S. Senate so they can pass a sweeping voting rights bill. Some leading Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are refusing to support these changes, raising fears that Democrats are abdicating their responsibility to protect American democracy as Republicans take unprecedented steps to undermine it.
“I hope this sends a very strong message to Democrats in Congress, especially the Senate, that these fights are especially important. Democracy is literally in danger and you have to do absolutely everything you can do, ”said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of the Texas chapter of Common Cause, a government watch group. “It wasn’t the Democrats who closed the rules. It was they who used everything to their advantage, taking a stand to protect the voting rights. “
The move gave a boost to Democrats who despaired of seeing Republicans relentlessly push through restrictive voting laws, said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.
“The base certainly wanted to see that. Loyal Democratic activists across Texas expected the legislature to rise and do whatever is necessary to kill this bill, ”he said. He added that the episode provided a concrete example for Democrats of how they could resist Republicans’ efforts in Washington to make it harder to vote.
After the bill failed, Texas Democrats begged their counterparts in the U.S. Senate to pass the For the People Act, an ambitious bill that would set national voting standards, including early voting requirements, d automatic and same-day registration, as well as limits excessive manipulation of political constituencies for partisan purposes. They also called on Democrats to pass a separate bill that would reinstate a provision of the Voting Rights Act requiring certain places where there is significant evidence of discrimination in voting to ensure that voting changes are pre-empted. authorized by the federal government.
The Democratic position came after Republicans spent the past few weeks negotiating a final version of the bill, known as Senate Bill 7, behind closed doors.
The final version of the bill that emerged on Saturday would have put in place new identification requirements for postal voting, prevented election officials from sending unsolicited postal ballot requests, banned drop boxes, the 24-hour and drive-thru voting; and reduced early voting hours on Sunday, a day widely known to be popular among black voters who voted after church.
Many of the provisions appeared to target Harris County, the most populous in the state, where election officials acted aggressively to expand access to the vote last year. The bill would also have made it easier for the courts to intervene to overturn the elections.
Democrats in the legislature found some of these provisions newly inserted into the measure when the final text was released on Saturday morning. When Democrats gathered at noon on Sunday, there was not yet a universal feeling that lawmakers should roll out the ‘nuclear’ option and leave the Legislature, said Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democratic representative from San Antonio.
Support for the idea then rose at a Sunday afternoon meeting of Black, Hispanic and Asian American lawmakers from the Pacific Islands and grew even more Sunday night when it became clear Republicans were trying to end to debate the bill to get it passed.
“It was like ‘Republicans are determined to get this thing through and they wouldn’t want us to sit in our chairs and take our meds any more.’ The answer we came up with was “OK, well, if you go over there with a nuclear option, well, okay, we also have a nuclear option tool and that’s to go.”
Texas, which is seen as increasingly competitive politically, already ranks among the last US states in access to the vote and has had one of the lowest turnout rates in the country in 2020. The state has some of the toughest restrictions on mailing. vote in the country, allowing only people aged 65 and over or who meet certain other criteria to vote by mail. Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton spent years hunting down voter fraud, but found little evidence to back up their claims.
Chris Turner, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, said in an interview that he was not fazed by the prospect of Republicans coming back and passing a restrictive special session vote bill that could be tougher than the one Democrats killed on Sunday.
“We cannot control what Republicans do, we cannot control what the governor does, we can only control what we do and how we react,” he said. “We need federal help to stop these voter suppression efforts.”
Hinojosa, the chairman of the Democratic Party, predicted that Democrats in the legislature would refuse to accept a new bill to make it more difficult to vote in a special session, and could potentially force Abbott to send forces officers. order to bring them to the capital. The optics of Democrats dragged into the capital to push through a voter suppression bill, he said, would not look good.
“It’s not over yet,” he said. “These guys aren’t going to come back and sit through this bullshit.”