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Texas Lawmakers Overcome Roadblock On Bill Restricting Voting Rights

August 20, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
Texas State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, wears running shoes as she filibusters Senate Bill 1, a voting bill, at the Texas Capitol Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Legislature is on track to pass another controversial state law restricting the right to vote after breaking a deadlock caused by Democrats who fled to Washington, D.C. to prevent enactment.

The Democrats were trying to interfere with the quorum required for passage by the state legislature.

Otherwise, they knew they were going to lose to Republicans who favor restrictions such as a ban on drive-through voting and elimination of round-the-clock voting stations. The bill also would expand access of partisan poll watchers and require reporting of unauthorized voters to law enforcement officials.

The bill passed three times in the state Senate this year, where the heavily Republican majority said it would ensure election integrity.

It stalled in the more Democratic House until lawmakers renegotiated a slightly more bipartisan version of the bill last month. The new version convinced just enough Democrats that recent surveys of state legislators showed it had the votes to pass.

That’s when more than 50 Democrats decided they needed to conduct business out-of-state, which also prevented a quorum.

They started returning in the past couple of days after facing the risk of arrest. By Thursday night, the House had reached the bare minimum of 99 members present for a quorum.

The Democrats did not have much choice but to return.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan threatened to have them arrested and forced to return to the state legislature to reach a quorum. A Travis County District judge put the arrest warrants on hold until the ruling Thursday by the Texas Supreme Court.

The state Supreme Court agreed the arrest warrants could be enforced.

“They broke quorum to prevent the legislature, in special session, from enacting voting legislation they oppose. They fled the state to escape the jurisdiction of the House, whose internal rules provide that absent members may be ‘arrested’ and their attendance ‘secured and retained,'” the ruling said.

Although they were empowered to make the arrests, law enforcement officers only left warrants at Democrats’ homes.

A few Democrats remained holdouts Friday, including Rep. Michelle Beckley. She chastised the lawmakers who returned to Texas in a tweet that said, “This is how Texas Democrats lose elections.”

Democrats are most concerned about limited hours for polling places and the ban on drive-through voting.

They reason that many low-wage workers would have difficulty leaving their jobs to vote during the hours the polling stations would be open.

They also say drive-through voting would expand election access by reducing voters’ time away from other commitments.

Republicans argue that making voting too easy reduces safeguards needed to prevent election fraud.

A Texas Legislature hearing on the voting bill is scheduled for Saturday.

Eighteen states so far have passed similar laws this year, all of them amid complaints about unfairness to low-income and minority voters. The most restrictive come from Arizona, Florida and Georgia.

Meanwhile, Congress continues work on bills that would set minimum standards for elections, despite protests that any federal legislation would infringe upon states’ constitutional rights to control how voting is done.

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