Texas Democrats walked out of the state chamber just before midnight Sunday to deny Republicans the quorum necessary to hold a final vote on a controversial bill that would tighten voting laws in the state.
Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who supports the bill, has said he will call a special session. The bill has the support of Republicans across the state who see it as a sensible approach to ensuring the integrity of elections. Democrats see the bill as an attempt to discourage minorities from voting.
“Electoral integrity and bail reform were hot spots for this legislative session,” Abbott tweeted Sunday night. “They must STILL pass. They will be added to the special session agenda. Lawmakers will need to have the details worked out when they arrive on Capitol Hill for the session.”
The bill known as Senate Bill 7 is said to have imposed a series of electoral changes that eliminate drive-thru voting, empower partisan poll observers, and impose new requirements in order to vote by mail in Texas, which has already some of the toughest election laws in the nation.
The bill was passed by the Texas Senate that included a new identification requirement for mail-in ballots, the Texas Tribune reported. The 67-page measure would also eliminate drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting centers, both introduced last year by Harris County, the state’s largest Democratic stronghold.
The New York Times reported that the special session could begin as early as June 1. The newspaper reported that the walkout prevented the legislature from maintaining a quorum of 100 members needed for deliberations.
State Representative Chris Turner, a Democrat, was a major driver of the exit, according to the newspaper. He sent a message to the other members around 10:35 pm that said, “Members, take your key and leave the room discreetly. Do not go to the gallery. Leave the building. “
Turner said in a statement that “it had become clear that the Republicans were going to halt debate to pass their Suppression Act. At this point, we had no choice but to take extraordinary measures to protect our voters and their right to vote “.
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The bill caught the attention of President Biden on Saturday. Biden compared the bill to an attack on “the sacred right to vote.”
“This is part of an attack on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year – and which often disproportionately targets black and brown Americans,” he said in a statement to the Tribune.
State Representative Dade Phelan, Speaker of the Republican House, criticized Democrats for leaving the chamber and failing to vote on other bills with bipartisan support.
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“Texans shouldn’t have to pay for the consequences of the actions of these members – or in this case, of inaction,” he said, according to the Washington Post. He said the majority of Texans supported “making our elections stronger and safer.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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