Texas’ Democratic lawmakers left the state Monday in order to deny Republicans a quorum during a special legislative session, blocking a vote on a restrictive elections law and several other contentious GOP bills, several media outlets have reported.
At least 51 of the state’s Democrats fled Austin on Monday, with most of them heading to Washington, D.C., on a pair of chartered planes. They could need to stay there for up to several weeks, until the special session called by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) comes to a close.
Without those Democrats present, Republicans won’t have the quorum of two-thirds of lawmakers that the Texas Constitution requires for conducting any legislative business. That means a pair of voting measures that Republicans have been rapidly advancing in the past few days won’t be able to move forward.
The bills would establish harsher voter ID requirements, ban 24-hour and drive-through voting, prohibit election officials from sending voters unsolicited absentee ballots, and expand protections for partisan poll watchers.
As GOP lawmakers have done in more than a dozen other states this year, Texas Republicans crafted these proposed election restrictions based on the pretense that voter fraud is a widespread problem that affected the 2020 presidential election ― a claim for which no evidence has been found, despite former President Donald Trump’s constant declarations to the contrary.
Evidence does show, however, that creating such restrictive voting requirements would make it harder for many qualified voters to access the polls, especially ethnic and racial minorities, low-income workers and people in rural areas.
“When Harris County implemented 24-hour voting, over 10,000 people voted in the night hours,” Texas state Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez (D) wrote Sunday in a series of tweets detailing the problems with the bills. “These voters were healthcare workers, custodians, and others with long overnight shifts.”
The walkout is expected to prevent the GOP from progressing bills that would block transgender youth from sports, strengthen cash bail requirements and crack down on access to medication abortion, among a litany of other hotly contested measures.
This is the second time the state’s Democratic lawmakers have staged a walkout in protest of the GOP’s voting measures. In late May, they walked out in the final hours of the regular legislative session, forcing Abbott to table the legislation. He immediately announced that he would declare this special session, which started Saturday and may last no more than 30 days. Abbott can also call additional special sessions.
The legislature does have the power to compel lawmakers to return to Austin, but that would require the state’s Department of Public Safety tracking down enough of them. So long as at least 51 of the Democrats are out of state, the GOP cannot proceed with any business at the state Capitol.
The Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union praised Democrats on Monday and slammed Abbott for calling a special session on these issues.
“The walkout is a drastic action in direct response to the governor’s refusal to listen to his constituents or address the real needs of Texans,” Sarah Labowitz, policy and advocacy director at the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “The governor should do his job and actually govern Texas. Instead of fighting culture wars, he should focus the special session on solving the dire issues facing Texas: passing a budget, fixing the energy grid, and dealing with the impact of the pandemic.”