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Government/Politics

As Absentee Democrats Plead For Federal Voting Protections In Washington, Texas Senate Passes Its Election Bill

A woman holds an umbrella while participating at a protest outside the Capitol on July 8, 2021, as Texas Democratic lawmakers join multiple organizations to criticize proposed changes to election laws during the special legislative session that started this month.
A woman holds an umbrella while participating at a protest outside the Capitol on July 8, 2021, as Texas Democratic lawmakers join multiple organizations to criticize proposed changes to election laws during the special legislative session that started this month.

Legislation is all but at a standstill in the Texas Capitol after a group of House Democrats, taking aim at a pair of bills that would expand voting restrictions in the state, denied their Republican colleagues a quorum by traveling to Washington to push for federal voting protections.

Nevertheless, Republicans in the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 1 on Tuesday with a full chamber vote.

During a Wednesday press conference at the Capitol, state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said the Texas Senate would continue to work on their legislative priorities even though the lower chamber cannot accept any bills without a quorum.

“The work we are doing, we are doing in case they do come back,” he said. “But as of now they cannot accept those bills. So the work we are doing for the people of Texas is being wasted.”

A group of more than 50 House Democrats left the state on Monday as Republicans were preparing to take full chamber votes this week on Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3. Both bills would make sweeping changes to the Texas election code.

If signed into law, those bills would ban drive-through voting, 24-hour voting centers, add new ID requirements for voting by mail and create new rules for people who vote curbside. The bills also create a slew of new criminal penalties that voting rights groups say could get voters in legal trouble for innocent mistakes.

The sponsor of SB 1, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said he doesn’t agree that his bill would make voting harder in Texas. He said many provisions in the bill would increase access to the ballot. That includes measures to improve early voting like allowing people to vote if they are still standing in line after polls are supposed to close, and requiring employers to allow workers to go vote. Currently, these rules only apply to Election Day voting.

“That’s why Senate Bill 1 makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” Hughes said.

Democrats in Texas warned earlier this year that they would not accept any legislation that makes it harder for Texans to vote — especially if those changes were predicated on the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

“We are here because of the big lie,” said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, during a press conference in Washington on Wednesday. “That’s why we are here.”

In Austin, Taylor was asked to respond to comments from Democrats that Republicans are motivated by the results of the 2020 election. Taylor said it was not true and that, in fact, Texas lawmakers have been changing voting laws almost every session in the past several years.

Taylor was also asked if he believes that the 2020 election was stolen. He did not refute it.

“Do I believe the presidential election was stolen? I don’t know that,” he said. “You know, I hear a lot of discussion about it, there has been no real investigation on that. But that’s not what this is about.”

More Texas Democrats have traveled to Washington since Monday, including some state senators, and have met with several U.S. senators to urge them to pass federal voting protections — namely the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

The last time Democrats went to Washington to push for this legislation, Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked consideration of the For the People Act.

It is unclear whether added pressure in Washington has changed anything so far, but state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said so far the meetings have been “productive” and have “refocused attention” on the importance of federal voting protections.

“And that’s been helpful to the process in Washington,” he said.

Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.