Democrats in the Texas state legislature abruptly left the state en masse Monday, boarding planes to Washington, D.C., in a dramatic last-ditch effort to disrupt Texas Republicans’ effort to pass a host of restrictive voter laws that have been shown to disproportionately impact minority voters. More than 50 Texas lawmakers fled the Texas state capitol in Austin in order to keep Republicans from attaining a quorum, which requires two-thirds of the chamber to be present to conduct legislative business. Fifty-one of 67 State House Democrats have reportedly decamped for Washington.
The move temporarily halts the GOP’s restrictions on voting from progressing for the second time this year. In May, Democrats staged a walkout of the legislature on the final day of the session, forcing Republicans to adjourn as they faced a midnight deadline to ram through the voting changes. Texas’s normal legislative session ran from Jan. 12 to May 31 of this year and, this being Texas, where functional governance is highly discouraged, the state legislature only sits for a handful of months every other year. Texas’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, responded by calling a special month-long legislative session that began on July 8 and runs through August 6.
Republican-led states across the U.S. have been actively trying to pass measures to make it harder to vote in the name of “election security” prompted by outlandish voter fraud claims by former President Donald Trump and those around him. “[T]he bill in Texas is among the most expansive and sweeping efforts to restrict voting in a state that already ranks as one of the most difficult in the country to cast a ballot,” the New York Times notes. “Among other provisions, the latest Republican proposal would ban 24-hour voting and drive-through voting; add new voter identification requirements for voting by mail; increase the criminal penalties for election workers who run afoul of regulations; and greatly expand the authority and autonomy of partisan poll watchers.”
By Texas state law, the Democratic legislators need to stay literally out of the state for the entirety of the remaining session in order to maintain their filibuster. The Texas delegation has vowed to do just that, travelling to Washington in order to gain attention, press Democratic leaders on stalled federal voting rights legislation and rally national support for its cause ahead of President Joe Biden’s address on the issue of voting rights Tuesday in Philadelphia. Under the Texas Constitution, NPR notes, “if lawmakers are anywhere in the state while the special session is ongoing, they can be arrested and physically brought back to the Capitol to provide a quorum.” The exodus is only a short-term solution to a long-term problem however, as the Texas governor can simply call another special session later in the year.