Texas Democrats stage walkout to block state's restrictive voting bill

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AUSTIN, Texas – A restrictive voting bill on the verge of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk failed to pass Sunday night after Democrats walked out of the House chamber before a midnight deadline.

Abbott said he would call a special session to try passing a voting bill again but did not say when.

“We’ve said for so many years that we want more people to participate in our democracy. And it just seems that’s not the case,” Democratic state Rep. Carl Sherman said.

Senate Bill 7, known as the Election Integrity Protection Act, is one of several GOP efforts in statehouses around the country to tighten voting restrictions, particularly in urban counties that tend to vote Democratic, after Republicans echoed former President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claims that last year's presidential election was stolen. No widespread fraud was uncovered.

The Texas Senate, voting along party lines, approved a sweeping Republican elections bill shortly after 6 a.m. Sunday after a lively overnight debate led mostly by Democrats that had begun 7½ hours earlier.

Democrats criticized the bill's restrictions, particularly a ban on 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting that was popular with nonwhite voters last year in Harris County, for disproportionately affecting people of color.

"I represent a majority African American district, and we benefited from the drive-thru voting that you're trying to ban now. I feel like you're coming for my district," said Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, adding that leaders with the FBI, Department of Justice and Texas secretary of state's office acknowledged that the 2020 election was safe, secure and free of widespread fraud.

Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, said SB 7 was an overreaction.

"We've had next to no fraud, and this has been documented at the federal level and the state level. But instead you're rewriting the Election Code," she said.

 Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, defended his bill as Saturday became Sunday, and he was still at it as sunrise neared – rejecting claims that the bill targeted nonwhite voters or that it was a solution in search of a problem.

"The provisions apply equally across the state. They are not limited to a particular group or particular area," he said.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, objected to a provision that would close polls until 1 p.m. on the last Sunday of early voting, saying that's when "Souls to the Polls" events are popular in Black churches, when members go to morning services, then go vote.

"Those election workers want to go to church, too," Hughes said, adding that he didn't know the genesis of the Sunday hours change because it came from the House.

"You don't find that kind of disingenuous?" West replied. "The greatest number of people who vote on Sundays are African Americans."

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John Spacey

John Spacey