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Here’s Why Texas Democrats Are Breaking Quorum by Leaving the State

July 13, 2021 by Reece Nations
Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, center left, and Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, joined at left by Rep. Chris Turner, chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, welcome Democratic members of the Texas legislature at a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. The lawmakers left Austin hoping to deprive the Texas Legislature of a quorum — the minimum number of representatives who have to be present for the body to operate, as they try to kill a Republican bill making it harder to vote in the Lone Star State. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

AUSTIN, Texas — Once again, Texas Democrats have captured the national political spotlight by breaking quorum to foil the passage of Republican-backed voting legislation.

At least 51 of 67 members of the Texas House of Representatives left the state on Monday, TWN previously reported, stalling the body’s ability to conduct business. At least two-thirds of the 150-member House must be present for the chamber to convene and vote on the bills.

In doing so, the Democrats are buying time in the hopes that federal elections legislation can be passed to thwart the Republican-led passage of restrictive voting provisions. Some Republican members of the House expressed support for a procedural move that would allow law enforcement to track down and return lawmakers to the chamber, although Texas law enforcement has no jurisdiction in Washington, D.C., where Democrats are expected to run out the special session’s clock.

“The Democrats must put aside partisan political games and get back to the job they were elected to do,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a written statement. “Their constituents must not be denied these important resources simply because their elected representative refused to show up to work.”

The proposed legislation would institute a ban on drive-thru voting, which had been utilized in Harris County to cut down on wait times and protect voters from the spread of COVID-19. Roughly 10% of early in-person votes in the county were cast using this method.

Further, the Republican voting bills aim to ban 24-hour polling places while creating new limits on early voting hours, provisions which Democrats say would disproportionately affect lower-income individuals in more densely populated localities. Republicans also want to grant broader authority to poll watchers by granting them “free movement” within a polling place with stiffer penalties for interfering with their observations, although a criminal penalty already exists on the books for obstructing poll watchers.

Other restrictive proposals of the legislation include outlawing local election officials from sending unsolicited applications to request a mail-in ballot with criminal penalties, the issuing of new ID requirements to verify vote-by-mail eligibility and establishing monthly citizenship checks mandating the Texas secretary of state’s office to match up voters registered in the state with data from the Department of Public Safety.

“After Abbott dragged lawmakers back to the Capitol for his suppression session, Democrats are fighting back with everything we’ve got,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a written statement. “We will not stand by and watch Republicans slash our right to vote, silence the voices of Texans of color, and destroy our democracy — all to preserve their own power. Our lawmakers have refused to be complicit in Republicans’ destructive attacks — and they’re doing what Texans need them to do: hold the line so that not one more anti-voter law can be passed in Texas.”

Although Democrats were able to secure some concessions from their Republican colleagues in the proposed voting bills — such as a new correction process for mail-in ballots that prevents them from being discarded because of missing signatures, and language that requires judges to inform someone if a conviction will prohibit them from voting — they ultimately elected to sabotage the special session that ends on Aug. 6.

By leaving the state capital, Democratic lawmakers are also stalling the passage of legislation concerning property tax relief, enhanced funding for law enforcement, state foster care funding, and funding for retired teachers, Abbott pointed out in his written statement addressing the Democrats’ exodus.

Abbott had vetoed a portion of the state budget that funded staffers’ salaries in May after the first quorum-breaking walkout by Democrats, TWN previously reported. Now, Abbott is contending he will continue to call special legislative sessions “until [Democrats] do their job.”

“I applaud them standing for the rights of all Americans and all Texans to express their voice through their vote, unencumbered,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on Monday. “They are leaders who are marching in the path that so many others before did, when they fought and many died for our right to vote.”

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