On Sunday night, Texas Democrats staged a dramatic, last-ditch walkout in the state House of Representatives to prevent the passage of one of the most restrictive voting bills in the country, forcing Republicans to abandon a midnight deadline and declare the legislative session over.
The uprising is one of the largest Democratic protests to date against nationwide GOP efforts to impose stricter election laws, and they used the spotlight to call on President Biden to act on voting rights. The victory, however, may be fleeting: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who had made new voting laws a priority in Texas, said he would call a special session to complete the task. He called the bill’s failure “deeply disappointing,” but did not say when he would call lawmakers back to work.
Democrats left the House chamber one by one until there was no longer a quorum of 100 members needed to pass Senate Bill 7, which would have reduced polling hours, empowered poll watchers, and reduced the number of ways to vote in Texas, which already has some of the strictest voting laws in the country.
Later, they gathered outside a Black church to express their outrage over a last-minute change to the bill that would have prohibited Sunday voting before 1 p.m., when many Black worshipers vote. Democrats claimed they did not go into the vote intending to break quorum, but were irritated when Republicans repeatedly refused to take their questions while rushing to pass the bill.
It was a stunning turnaround from just 24 hours before, when the bill appeared to be on its way to Mr. Abbott’s desk. The Texas Senate approved the bill before sunrise on Sunday after Republicans, who hold an 18-13 majority in the chamber, used a procedural maneuver to suspend the rules and take up the bill in the middle of the night.
However, as the day progressed, the GOP’s chances began to dwindle. State Rep. Chris Turner, the Democratic House leader, said he sent a text message to members of his caucus telling them to leave the chamber at 10:35 p.m. However, the exodus was already well underway at that point.
Republicans were restrained in their criticism of Democrats’ move.
Texas is the latest major battleground in Republicans’ campaign to enact more stringent voting laws, fueled by former President Donald Trump’s unverified claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Georgia and Florida also enacted new voting restrictions, and Mr. Biden compared Texas’ bill to the election changes in those states as a “assault on democracy” on Saturday.
Republicans added language to the 67-page bill during closed-door negotiations that would have made it easier for a judge to overturn an election. The bill would also have prohibited drive-through voting and 24-hour polling places, both of which Harris County, the state’s largest Democratic stronghold, proposed last year.
Major corporations, including Texas-based American Airlines Inc. and Dell, have joined the chorus of opposition, warning that the efforts could harm democracy and the economy. Republicans, on the other hand, dismissed their concerns and, in some cases, chastised business leaders for speaking out. Businesses’ opposition had faded by the time the Texas bill was poised to pass over the Memorial Day weekend.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, at least 14 states have enacted more restrictive voting laws since Mr. Trump’s defeat. It has also counted nearly 400 bills filed this year in the United States that would restrict voting rights. It wasn’t the first time Texas Democrats, who have been out of power in Austin for decades, were able to stymie contentious legislation despite their numerical disadvantage.
They broke quorum twice in 2003 to thwart Republican efforts to redraw voting maps, even fleeing the state for Oklahoma at one point. A decade later, former state Sen. Wendy Davis used an 11-hour filibuster to put an end to a sweeping anti-abortion bill.
But, in each case, Republicans came out on top.