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Beto O'Rourke And AFL-CIO Hold Voting Rights Rally At Texas State Capitol

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Former presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke headlined a voting rights rally in Austin on June 20, a day before Democrats in the U.S. Senate take up a sweeping bill aimed at combating new Republican-backed voting restrictions in Texas and other states across the country.

Democratic lawmakers in Texas staged a dramatic, 11th-hour walkout as the legislative session was ending last month, blocking the Republican majority from passing a wide-ranging bill that would have eliminated drive-through and overnight voting, made it easier for judges to overturn election results and given partisan poll watchers more access to polling sites.

Texas is part of a national push by Republicans to tighten voting laws after former President Donald Trump's false claim that he lost last year's presidential election due to voter fraud. Republican-controlled legislatures have passed new rules in several battleground states, including Georgia, Arizona and Florida.

The reprieve in Texas is likely temporary. Republican leaders, including Governor Greg Abbott, have said they will hold a special session to take up the legislation again.

Speaking to hundreds of supporters outside the Texas Capitol, O'Rourke, a former Democratic congressman who ran for president in 2020 and has not ruled out a gubernatorial campaign challenging Abbott in 2022, criticized Republican lawmakers for their latest efforts to pass an election reform bill critics say would make it harder for Blacks and Hispanics to vote. O'Rourke urged those in attendance to "fight on every front" in order to "save American democracy".

A handful of Republican lawmakers have backed away from some provisions in the measure, such as a prohibition on early voting on Sundays before 1 p.m. - a measure widely seen as targeting Black churches' "souls to the polls" drives.

On June 21 the U.S. Senate is expected to begin bringing a sweeping Democratic-sponsored election reform bill up for a vote. The legislation, known as the For the People Act, would expand ballot access and outlaw partisan redistricting, among other measures.

The bill's prospects in the Senate, however, are dim. Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote with Republicans universally opposed, and moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has already said he does not support the legislation.

On June 16, Manchin suggested a series of revisions to the bill, though any compromise would require at least 10 Republican votes under the Senate's filibuster rules.

Democratic President Joe Biden has put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of a national voting rights push; she met on Wednesday with 16 Texas Democratic legislators who participated in last month's walkout.

O'Rourke, who became a Democratic star when he narrowly lost a U.S. Senate race in 2018 to Republican Ted Cruz said last week that he is focused on voting rights at the moment, not his political future.

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