The Battle for Democracy in Texas

In the wake of the contentious 2020 election, state legislatures have proposed nearly 400 bills designed to restrict voting rights. Some states, like Georgia and Florida, have succeeded in passing legislation that primarily disenfranchises communities of color.

And then there’s Texas, the current battleground state for voting rights.

Back up. What’s happening in Texas?

It’s already notoriously difficult to vote in Texas. But back in May, Texas Republicans attempted to pass versions of a bill that would have restricted voting further in several ways. The bills sought to quietly purge voter rolls, close polling places in Democratic strongholds, and empower partisan poll watchers in ways that may stray into voter intimidation. It also would have banned ballot drop boxes, 24-hour voting locations, drive-thru voting, and the mailing of absentee ballots to all eligible voters, all of which were popular voting methods among communities of color during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first time Texas legislators tried to push these measures through, in a bill known as S.B.7, Democrats did all they could to stop them. Then, on May 30, 62 of the 67 Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives walked out of the chamber, denying lawmakers the quorum they needed to vote on the legislation.

“It became obvious Republicans were going to cut off debate to ram through their vote suppression legislation,” said Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Chris Turner. “At that point, we had no choice but to take extraordinary measures to protect our constituents and their right to vote.”

While voting rights activists in Texas and across the country rejoiced, it was hardly the end of the fight. Texas Governor Greg Abbott called a special session of the legislature for July, and Republicans quickly held hearings on the election proposals that fast-tracked them for full House and Senate votes. Democrats had only one strategy left to play.

The flight for borrowed time

The Caucus’ phone tree message on Sunday, July 11 was simple: Pack your bags and be ready to leave Austin at noon tomorrow. Democratic lawmakers bid farewell to their families and prepared to leave their homes and their jobs. They had to be ready to spend weeks away from home; if they were caught in Texas, they could be arrested for skipping the special session and again denying the House the ⅔ quorum it needed to vote. Most didn’t know where they were going until they were shuttled to the airport.

By Tuesday, 55 Texas Democrats (46 from the House, 9 from the Senate) had arrived in D.C. with the goal of urging President Biden and Congress to end the Senate filibuster and pass federal legislation that would make the Texas measures moot points: the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. They plan to stay in Washington until the special legislative session in Texas ends next month.

Texas Democrats at a July 13 press conference on Capitol Hill
(Source: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

“We can’t hold this tide back forever. We’re buying some time,” said Rep. Turner at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “We need Congress and all of our federal leaders to use that time wisely.”

“We have courage, conviction and a little bit of defiance,” said San Antonio Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer. “We are here today to rally the nation, and we hope that the U.S. Senate will hear us, and we hope that they will pass the [For] the People Act before the Aug. 6 recess.”

If you support the Texas legislators fighting for our democracy in D.C. right now, call your Senators at (202) 224-3121 or (202) 224-3091 (TTY) and urge them to pass the For The People Act (S1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act!

And don’t forget, your bills can send a message: STOP THE ATTACK ON VOTING RIGHTS!