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Texas Democratic Lawmakers Lobby for Voting Rights Legislation on Capitol Hill

A delegation of state lawmakers from Texas who recently rallied to kill a controversial election bill met with leading members of Congress on Tuesday to advocate for the passage of comprehensive voting rights legislation that could circumvent future efforts by state Republicans to restrict how people cast their ballots.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — A delegation of state lawmakers from Texas who recently rallied to kill a controversial election bill met with leading members of Congress on Tuesday to advocate for the passage of comprehensive voting rights legislation that could circumvent future efforts by state Republicans to restrict how people cast their ballots.

The four Democratic state Senators and 15 state Representatives met with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers to discuss HR 1, the For the People Act, and HR 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with the Texas delegation at the White House on Wednesday.

Their trip to Washington comes weeks after they collectively staged a walkout on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives to break quorum and kill a controversial Republican-backed voting restrictions bill. The Texas Democrats were invited to meet with lawmakers after they sent letters to various members of Congress and the White House expressing their interest in discussing voting rights and their experience fighting Senate Bill 7.

The bill killed by Democrats in the final hours of the Texas legislative session would have banned 24-hour and drive-through voting, barred election officials for soliciting vote-by-mail applications and established a formula for how polling locations are allocated. After a conference committee of the Texas House and Senate worked out different versions of the bill, new provisions were added that would have limited hours of operation for voting on Sunday and dicated how an election might get overturned. 

Many of the restrictions in the bill aimed to limit the innovations of Harris County, home to Houston, which it implemented to increase voter turnout and make polling locations safer during the pandemic. Both drive-through and 24-hour voting were popular ways many people cast their ballot while limiting their exposure to others and skipping long lines that might have deterred them from waiting. 

Standing on the U.S. Capitol grounds, Democrats from the federal and state level held a press conference Tuesday where they condemned the Texas voting bill and pushed for passage of HR 1 and HR 4.

“I am honored to be here with these American patriots," Speaker Pelosi said during the conference. "With their courage and their action they have supported our democracy.”

While praising members of the Texas House for their actions against SB 7 and expressing concerns over steps other states are taking regarding voting, Pelosi said that “in Congress we have the antidote” to the Republicans' efforts. For Democrats, that antidote is a combination of HR 1 and HR 4. 

The For the People Act would require each state to provide an online voter registration application, would allow voters in federal elections who don't have identification to vote if they present a signed statement swearing they are eligible to do so, and allow for same-day voter registration during federal elections. The bill would also standardize vote-by-mail and early voting practices.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is targeted at restoring parts of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped in the Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder. The key provision many Democrats want to see passed with HR 4 is the requirement for certain states to receive preclearance from the federal government before they make any changes to voting in their state.

If signed into law, HR 1 and HR 4 would reverse many of the voting restrictions passed in states like Georgia and Florida. Additionally, these bills might prevent states from pursuing legislation similar to SB 7.

State Representative Chris Turner of Dallas called on President Joe Biden and the U.S. Senate to pass HR 1 saying, “We need their help now, because the Republican attempt to suppress the vote in Texas … is not going to stop. We need Congress and the President to pass and enact into law HR 1 and HR 4 to finally put an end to this so all Americans and all Texans have an equal opportunity to participate in our nation's democracy.”      

HR 1 has already passed the House of Representatives and is still being worked out in the Senate. Its main hurdle now is getting enough support to pass in the Senate — a lofty goal, given that support for the bills is not universal among Democrats.

West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin recently announced that he would not be supporting HR 1 because of the partisan reception of the bill and fears of over-politicizing Americans' right to vote. His positioning on the bill makes passage nearly impossible. Manchin is so far the only Senate Democrat to come out in opposition to HR 1. 

State Representatives Jasmine Crockett of Dallas and Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio had a 45-minute meeting with Senator Manchin’s staff to discuss HR 1 and lobby for his support. 

“One thing was very clear from that meeting with Senator Manchin’s office, voting practices in West Virginia are way different than voting practices in Texas, and once they understood exactly how high these hurdles are … to make voting practically a crime in the state of Texas, no voter deserves to go through that and we need a response and we need it now," Martinez Fischer said.

The “election integrity" effort comes after many Texas Republican lawmakers echoed former President Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen through fraudulent votes. For Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, SB 7 was supposed to limit fraudulent voting.  

So far, HR 1 has zero Republican support in the Senate and the delegation is not going to get support from the state's Republican Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. In March, Cruz told reporters that the bill is dangerous and would lock-in "power for the Democrats for the next 100 years."

On Sunday, the delegation of Texas Democrats will be at a voting rights rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol hosted by former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke.

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