Texas Democrats Flee State To Prevent Quorum On Voting Bill

AUSTIN, TX - JULY 10: Texas state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, speaks to a group of people waiting to testify against renewed efforts by Texas Republicans to pass voting restrictions as state lawmakers hold committee hearings on election integrity bills at the State Capitol on July 10, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Hundreds of people signed up to testify before lawmakers as Texas Republicans move forward with their effort to overhaul the state's voting laws during the 87th Legislature's special session. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - JULY 10: Texas state Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) speaks to a group of people waiting to testify against renewed efforts by Texas Republicans to pass voting restrictions as state lawmakers hold commit... AUSTIN, TX - JULY 10: Texas state Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) speaks to a group of people waiting to testify against renewed efforts by Texas Republicans to pass voting restrictions as state lawmakers hold committee hearings on election integrity bills at the State Capitol on July 10, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Hundreds of people signed up to testify before lawmakers as Texas Republicans move forward with their effort to overhaul the state's voting laws during the 87th Legislature's special session. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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July 12, 2021 2:28 p.m.

Members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus fled the state Monday in an effort to prevent a quorum for new Republican voting restrictions.

“Today, Texas House Democrats stand united in our decision to break quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote,” Democratic House leaders said in a statement.

“We are now taking the fight to our nation’s Capitol,” they said, as members left Austin for Washington D.C. “We are living on borrowed time in Texas.”

The trip out of state would follow a similar move in late May, when the Democratic legislators left the Capitol with hours to go in the legislative session, halting progress on the voting restrictions and prompting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to call for the special legislative session that began last week.

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The Democrats previewed the plan to flee as an attempt to prevent a package of voting restrictions from Texas Republicans, House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1, which would ban 24-hour and drive-through voting, embolden and empower partisan poll watchers and up the penalties for election workers who do not comply with regulations, prohibit the distribution of unsolicited mail-in ballot applications by elections officials, and institute new ID requirements for mail-in ballots, among other things.

The Senate bill also authorizes the Secretary of State to compare Department of Public Safety records with voter rolls to hunt out potential non-citizens every month.

State Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D) told the Houston Chronicle before boarding a flight to D.C., “we’re not coming back.”

House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said the chamber would use “every available resource” under the Texas Constitution and House rules to secure a quorum.

Reporter Jessica Huseman of Votebeat first reported the walkout, followed by NBC News and other outlets.

“They will have to leave the state for weeks,” Huseman reported. NBC reported that at least 58 Democrats in the state’s House of Representatives were expected to walk out, of 67 total Democrats in the chamber’s minority, and that the majority of the members planned on flying to Washington, D.C. on two charter jets to rally lawmakers around federal voting rights legislation. The network cited an unnamed person familiar with the situation.

The Wall Street Journal counted at least 59 House Democrats fleeing the state, according to an unnamed source familiar with their plans.

The stunt would carry the risk of arrest under Texas law, as the state’s constitution requires a two-thirds quorum of legislators to be present.

Vice President Kamala Harris cheered the Texas Democrats’ “extraordinary courage” on Monday.

“I applaud them standing for the rights of all Americans and all Texans to express their voice through their vote, unencumbered,” she said.

The latest walkout news is a sequel to Texas Democrats’ similar gambit in May, when members slowly trickled out as the minutes of the regular session ran down. Shortly before midnight, they’d successfully deprived the House of the necessary two-thirds quorum, and temporarily killed that version of the voting law overhaul.

Abbott vowed to establish a special session to get the voting package, plus a handful of other bills, passed. He finally did so last week, and Republicans wasted little time introducing complementary House and Senate bills that followed the outlines of the regular session legislation.

Public hearings on HB1 and SB3 were scheduled for this past weekend, a very tight timeline that critics said was purposefully meant to cut down on people’s ability to familiarize themselves enough with the legislation to testify against it. Still, the House session in particular stretched for 24 hours, with people rising to testify in the dead of night.

One controversial piece of the original legislation that would have limited early voting hours on Sundays was not included in the latest package of bills after outcry that the proposal was a direct attack on Souls to the Polls voting events that organize and mobilize Black churchgoers.

Their original walkout in May earned the Texas Democrats national headlines and a trip to D.C. to meet with U.S. Democratic lawmakers. There, they begged senators to pass federal voting safeguards — namely the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act — pointing to their limited ability to stymy the will of both chambers’ Republican majorities.

Currently, both of those bills are dead on arrival in the Senate, due to Republican opposition and the 60 votes needed to defeat the legislative filibuster. While most of the Senate Democratic caucus is at least supportive of reforming the rule to make it easier to pass legislation, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) support the preservation of its current form.

“We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans — and all Americans — from the Trump Republicans’ nationwide war on democracy,” the Texas Democrats said Monday.

This post has been updated.

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