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Walkout by Democrats in Texas House keeps sweeping voting restrictions bill from passing

Texas Democrats stall restrictive voting bill
Texas Democrats temporarily block restrictive voting bill 01:43

Austin, Texas — Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives kept a bill with sweeping new voting restrictions from passing late Sunday night by walking out shortly before a midnight deadline, denying the majority Republicans a quorum.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott promptly said he would call a special session to try again to get it approved, but didn't say when that would be.

The bill, known as Senate Bill 7, would have imposed a raft of election changes that eliminated drive-thru voting, empowered partisan poll watchers and imposed new requirements in order to cast a ballot by mail in Texas, which already has some of the toughest voting laws in the nation.

Hours earlier, the bill seemed all but guaranteed to reach Abbott's desk. The Texas Senate had approved the measure in a vote before sunrise on Sunday, after Republicans used a bare-knuckle procedural move to suspend the rules and take up the measure in the middle of the night during the Memorial Holiday weekend.

But as Sunday night wore on in the House, the GOP's chances wobbled. 

About two hours before the midnight deadline to pass the bill, Democrats began filing out of the chamber in greater and greater numbers, denying Republicans the quorum necessary to hold a final vote.

The walkout handed Republicans a rare defeat in the Texas Capitol where they control every lever of power and wield overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate.

State Rep. Chris Turner, the Democratic House leader, said he sent a text message to members of his caucus at 10:35 p.m. telling them to leave the chamber.

"We killed that bill," Turner said.

Republicans showed restraint in criticizing Democrats for the move.

"I am disappointed that some members decided to break quorum," said Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain, who carried the bill in the House. "We all know what that meant. I understand why they were dong it, but we all took an oath to Texans that we would be here to do our jobs."

"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.  

The move was reminiscent of 2003, when outnumbered Democrats twice broke quorum to stop Republican efforts to redraw voting maps. House Democrats first left the state en masse for Ardmore, Oklahoma only to return several days later. Senate Democrats delayed a special session that summer by going as a group to Albuquerque, New Mexico for several weeks.

Ultimately, neither effort worked as the Democrats eventually returned to the Capitol and Republicans passed the bill.

Under revisions during closed-door negotiations, Republicans added language that could make it easier for a judge to overturn an election and pushed back the start of Sunday voting, when many Black churchgoers head to the polls. The 67-page measure would also eliminate drive-thru voting and 24-hour polling centers, both of which Harris County introduced last year. It's the state's largest Democratic stronghold and includes Houston, its largest city.

Texas is the last big battleground in the GOP's nationwide efforts to tighten voting laws, driven by former President Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Georgia and Florida have also passed new voting restrictions.

President Biden on Saturday called election changes in those states "an assault on democracy that we've seen far too often this year," one that is "often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans."

CBS Dallas notes that major corporations, including Texas-based American Airlines and Dell, have warned that the measures could harm democracy and the economic climate. But Republicans shrugged off their objections and, in some cases, ripped business leaders for speaking out.

The top Republican negotiators, state Senator Bryan Hughes and Cain, called the bill "one of the most comprehensive and sensible election reform bills" in Texas' history.

"Even as the national media minimizes the importance of election integrity, the Texas Legislature has not bent to headlines or corporate virtue signaling," they said in a joint statement.

Since Mr. Trump's defeat, at least 14 states have enacted more restrictive voting laws, according to the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice. It has also counted nearly 400 bills filed this year nationwide that would restrict voting.

Republican lawmakers in Texas have insisted that the changes aren't a response to Mr. Trump's false claims of widespread fraud but are needed to restore confidence in the voting process. But doubts about the election's outcome have been fanned by some of the state's top GOP leaders, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led a failed lawsuit at the U.S. Supreme Court to try to overturn the election.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who chaired Mr. Trump's presidential campaign in Texas, offered a $1 million reward to anyone who could produce evidence of voter fraud. 

Nonpartisan investigations of previous elections have found that voter fraud is exceedingly rare. State officials from both parties, including in Texas, as well as international observers have also said the 2020 election went well. 

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