UPDATE 5/31/21 6:00 AM VIA AP: Texas Democrats pulled off a dramatic, last-ditch walkout in the state House of Representatives on Sunday night to block passage of one of the strongest election integrity bills in the U.S., leaving Republicans with no choice but to abandon a midnight deadline and declare the legislative session essentially over.
The revolt is one of Democrats’ biggest protests to date against GOP efforts nationwide to impose greater integrity on election laws and eliminate vote fraud, and they used the spotlight to urge President Joe Biden to act on “voting rights.”
But the victory may be fleeting: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who had declared new voting laws a priority in Texas, quickly announced that he would order a special session to finish the job. He called the failure of the bill “deeply disappointing” but did not say when he would drag lawmakers back to work.
One by one, Democrats left the House chamber until there was no longer the 100-member quorum needed to pass Senate Bill 7.
Democrats said they did not go into the House vote intending to break quorum, but instead became fed-up after Republicans repeatedly refused to take their questions while “racing to pass the bill.”
It was an stunning turnabout from just 24 hours earlier, when the bill seemed all but guaranteed to reach Abbott’s desk. The Texas Senate had signed off before sunrise earlier Sunday after Republicans, who hold an 18-13 majority in the chamber, passed the bill.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE: (Headline USA) The Texas Legislature was on the verge Sunday of signing off on some of the best election integrity measures in the U.S., putting the GOP on the brink of a major victory in their nationwide effort to prevent fraud following the disputed 2020 presidential election.
A vote in the state House expected later Sunday is the last barrier to sending Republican Gov. Greg Abbott election changes that would eliminate drive-thru voting, empower poll watchers and impose new requirements in order to cast a ballot by mail in Texas.
Democrats dug in for one last and longshot challenge on the House floor but had little means of stopping the bill.
Hours earlier on Sunday, the Texas Senate passed the bill.
Even before the final House vote, Democrats said they would try to block the measure in court.
“It’s an awful bill,” said Democratic state Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, the vice chairwoman of the House Elections Committee. “But I’m hopeful that this underhanded behavior, the way they undercut the process, will help us when we litigate this.”
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.
The 67-page measure would also eliminate drive-thru voting and 24-hour polling centers, both of which Harris County, the state’s largest Democratic stronghold, illegally introduced last year by using the coronavirus as a pretext.
Georgia and Florida have also passed new election integrity measures, and President Joe Biden on Saturday called reforms in those states “an assault on democracy.”
The vote in the Texas Senate came just a short time after a final version of the bill had been made public Saturday.
Around midnight, Republicans wielded their majority to suspend rules that would normally prohibit taking a vote on a bill that had not been posted for 24 hours, which Democrats protested as a breach of protocol that denied them and the public time to review the language first.
The bill would newly empower poll watchers by allowing them more access inside polling places and threatening criminal penalties against elections officials who restrict their movement.
Republicans originally proposed giving poll watchers the right to take photos, but that language was removed from the final bill that lawmakers were set to vote on this weekend.
Another new provision could also make it easier to overturn an election in Texas, allowing for a judge to void an outcome if the number of fraudulent votes cast could change the result.
Election officials would also face new criminal penalties, including felony charges for sending mail voting applications to people who did not request one.
The Texas District and County Attorneys Association tweeted that it had counted in the bill at least 16 new, expanded or enhanced crimes related to elections.
GOP legislators are also moving to prohibit Sunday voting before 1 p.m., which critics called an attack on what is commonly known as “souls to the polls” — a get-out-the-vote campaign used by black church congregations nationwide.
The idea traces back to the civil rights movement. Democratic state Rep. Nicole Collier, chairwoman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, said the change is “going to disengage, disenfranchise those who use the souls to the polls opportunity.”
Pressed on the Senate floor over why Sunday voting couldn’t begin sooner, Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes said, “Election workers want to go to church, too.”
Collier was one of three Democrats picked to negotiate the final version, none of whom signed their name to it.
She said she saw a draft of the bill around 11 p.m. Friday — which was different than one she had received earlier that day — and was asked for her signature the next morning.
Major corporations, including Texas-based American Airlines and Dell, have warned that they may punish the state for protecting its election. But Republicans shrugged off their objections, and in some cases, ripped business leaders for speaking out.
The top Republican negotiators, Hughes and state Rep. Briscoe 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 the last election, at least 14 states have moved to protect the right to vote, according to the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice. It has also counted nearly 400 bills filed this year nationwide that would protect elections.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.