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Texas Senate passes voting bill after 15-hour filibuster by Democrat

Texas state representative on special session
Texas state Representative Carl Sherman discusses new special session 08:29

The Texas Senate on Thursday advanced a sweeping elections bill along party lines following a 15-hour filibuster by one of the Senate's leading Democrats. 

The bill, SB 1, is nearly identical to a voting bill passed by the Texas Senate in July during the legislature's first special session. But the bill's future is once again in doubt for the current special session. There are still not enough House lawmakers present for a quorum because more than 50 Democratic representatives have not been at the Capitol Building since mid-July.

The Senate passed the bill along party lines, 18 to 11, after Texas state Senator Carol Alvarado concluded a 15-hour filibuster. She acknowledged Wednesday in an interview with CBS News that the bill was bound to pass, but said it was a tool available to Democrats to continue to draw attention to the legislation.

The bill would eliminate drive-thru and 24-hour early voting, both of which were used in the Houston area last year due to the pandemic. It would also expand early voting hours in some smaller and medium-sized counties; add ID requirements for voting by mail; give more powers to partisan poll watchers; and create new rules, with potential criminal penalties, for people who assist voters. 

Democratic Legislators Flee Texas To Stop Votes In Current Special Session
AUSTIN, TX - JULY 12: The U.S. and Texas state flags fly outside the state Capitol building on July 12, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Texas Democrats have fled the state in order to prevent a quorum in protest over a Republican voting protection bill that they say is too restrictive. / Getty Images

Democrats have been staunchly opposed to Republican efforts to amend the state's voting laws. They note that there is no credible evidence of widespread fraud and say the bills will make it harder for some people to vote. 

"What do we want our democracy to look like? Do we want our state to be more or less inclusive?" Alvarado said in her closing remarks. "Instead of making it easier to vote, this bill makes it easier to intimidate. Instead of making it harder to cheat, it makes it harder to vote."

Republican state Senator Bryan Hughes, the bill's author, has said the bill is meant to address parts of the election system that he believes are open to fraudulent activity. He strongly denied any accusations that the bill is intended to suppress voters.

"Those of us who have read the bill know what's in it: simple, common sense reforms and expanding early voting hours across the state," Hughes said just before the Senate passed the bill. He closed by asserting that the bill makes it "easy to vote [and] hard to cheat."

It's unclear where the bill will go from here. More than 50 Texas House Democrats left the state last month to break quorum during the first special session. Some of them have returned to Texas, but only a handful have returned to the capitol. 

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan signed civil arrest warrants for the missing 52 Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday, but those lawmakers have not returned to Austin. On Thursday afternoon, the Texas Supreme Court halted an order that was protecting the Democratic lawmakers from arrest warrants. 

Some of those legislators are still in Washington, D.C., where they urged Democratic senators to pass federal voting rights legislation. Senate Democrats have said it will be a top priority when they return in the fall, but the path to passing that legislation remains uncertain. 

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