After lengthy debate Sunday night, Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives successfully prevented a controversial Republican-backed elections bill from moving forward, for now.
AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — In an eleventh-hour maneuver, all Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives walked off the floor Sunday night with just over an hour left in the legislative session and before a Republican-backed voting reform bill came up for a final vote.
Because a quorum, or two-thirds, of the body was not present, no further action could be taken on Senate Bill 7. This came after hours of lawmaker objections to the bill on the grounds that it violated procedural rules and a lengthy back and forth between members for and against the bill.
SB 7 was back in the House of Representatives after a conference committee, comprised of five members of each chamber, worked out differences in the bill from the House and Senate version. The Senate adopted the changes made in committee early Sunday after an overnight debate over provisions that were added to the bill that were not in either initial versions of SB 7. The bill required the House to do the same in order for it to then be signed into law by Republican Governor Greg Abbott.
Shortly after quorum was broken in the House, Abbott took to Twitter to lay the groundwork for a special session in which lawmakers will be called back to Austin to take up the bill again.
“Election Integrity and Bail Reform were emergency items for this legislative session. They STILL must pass. They will be added to the special session agenda,” he tweeted late Sunday.
SB 7 was a priority for Texas Republicans, including Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. GOP lawmakers said they wanted to restore “election integrity,” despite being unable to point to any evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 general election or any other recent contests.
The bill would have banned drive-thru voting and 24-hour polling places, added criminal penalties for election officials who solicit a vote-by-mail application and expanded the role of poll watchers.
Both drive-thru voting and extended hours for casting a ballot were innovations used in Harris County, which includes Houston, to make voting safer and more accessible during the pandemic. These changes were popular among Black and brown voters in more urban areas of the county, which was seen as an advantage for Democrats.
After being worked out behind closed doors in the conference committee, a number of new provisions made it into the bill that were never considered before. One provision limited polling hours on Sunday to 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., which voting rights activists criticized as targeting efforts like “souls to the polls,” which helps get Black voters to polling locations after church.
Another newly added measure would have required anyone requesting a mail-in ballot to provide identification through either their driver’s license or the last four digits of their Social Security number.
The most controversial provision added to the bill set standards for election results to be overturned. It said that election results may be overturned “if the number of illegally cast ballots is equal or greater than the number of votes necessary to change the outcome of an election.”
President Joe Biden said on Saturday just after the bill’s final form was agreed upon that the legislation was “wrong and un-American.”
“It’s part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year—and often disproportionately targeting Black and brown Americans,” he said.
Biden’s rebuke of SB 7 comes after he similarly criticized a Georgia law which put restrictions on both in-person and by mail voting. Last year, Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the Peach State since 1992.
Texas House Democrats blasted the provisions that were added to the bill in conference committee.
“The conference committee for Senate Bill 7… wrote language that was neither in the House-passed version of Senate Bill 7 nor in the Senate-passed version of Senate Bill 7,” Representative Chris Turner, D-Arlington, said during debate.
At a press conference around midnight on Sunday, Democrats discussed their issues with SB 7 and their recent victory against the bill.
“We were told time and time again by the secretary of state that our elections were safe and secure, and so really this was just a witch hunt aimed at people of color,” said House Elections Committee Vice-Chair Jessica Gonzalez, D-Dallas.
She called out what she described as “underhanded” tactics Republicans used to try to force passage of the bill.
“There were provisions that were added to this bill that even the conferees were given at late hours in the evening, pages and pages that were added and were forced to rush, forced to make a decision,” Gonzalez said.
It is unclear when the special session the governor called for will take place. Patrick, the lieutenant governor, already called for a June session after three of his legislative priorities died in the House earlier this week. The priorities include bills that would create punitive actions against social media companies that “censor” conservatives, prohibit transgender kids from playing on the sports team that reflects their gender identity and a crackdown on taxpayer-funded lobbying.