AUSTIN, Texas — Democrats left the Texas House in protest late Sunday to kill a sweeping GOP-backed voting bill that would have made it easier to overturn an election and created several new crimes.
At around 10:45 p.m., the last remaining Democrats needed to keep a quorum of 100 members streamed out of the chamber. Debate on the bill abruptly stopped.
Democrats walked out without fanfare, trickling out in groups and heading to an area church.
This is only the fourth time Texas lawmakers have broken quorum to protest passage of a bill. The last time time was in 2003, when a group of about 50 Democrats fled the state in the middle of the night to Oklahoma in protest of redistricting. The rare show of protest occurred twice before that, in 1979 and 1870. The Oregon Legislature has seen walkouts much more recently.
The 2021 legislative session ends Monday, so anything not passed by midnight is effectively dead for the year — unless the governor revives it in a special session.
Late Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted that he would do just that.
“Election Integrity & Bail Reform were emergency items for this legislative session. They STILL must pass,” Abbott tweeted. “They will be added to the special session agenda. Legislators will be expected to have worked out the details when they arrive at the Capitol for the special session.”
A special session could also open up consideration again for other bills besides election changes and bail reform that died: social media censorship, preempting local ordinances on employee benefits and a proposal to make transgender student athletes participate in sports under the gender on their birth certificates.
Senate Bill 7 would have set uniform early voting hours, further empower partisan poll watchers and put new criminal penalties on voting officials and assistants who break the rules.
The final version, released over the weekend after Democrats said they were largely locked out of the process, would have banned 24-hour and drive-thru voting, penalized election officials who send mail-in ballot applications to those who do not ask for them, and required some people who drive voters to the polls to hand over their personal information.
During closed-door discussions on the final bill this past week, Republicans stripped many of the concessions Democrats won during a late-night House debate earlier this month. They added provisions culled from GOP bills that died this session, such as a requirement that mail-in ballot applicants provide an identification number on their documentation, or pledge they do not have an ID.
Texas was among the red states that have overhauled their voting procedures to enhance “election integrity” since the 2020 presidential election, perpetuating an unfounded claim that voter fraud was widespread in that contest. On Saturday, President Joe Biden likened the Texas legislation to recent laws passed in Georgia and Florida that he said were “wrong and un-American” and “an assault on democracy” targeting “Black and Brown” voters.