Democrats in the Texas Legislature blocked passage of new voting restrictions by walking out and preventing a quorum on Sunday night, on the eve of the legislative session’s adjournment.
As the deadline for voting on bills approached, Democratic members of the state House of Representatives trickled out of the chamber, until the body had fewer than the two-thirds members needed to establish a quorum needed to conduct votes. Republicans hold 88 seats in the 150-member House, enough to pass most legislation on party-line votes, but a quorum needs 100 members present to hold those votes.
Thus, a quorum would have allowed passage of Senate Bill 7, a package of voting restrictions the Democrats oppose. SB 7 removes county election officials’ authority to make decisions on how elections are conducted, and specifically prohibits some of the measures those county officials took to facilitate voting during the COVID-19 pandemic and weatherrelated difficulties.
For example, several counties — and Gov. Greg Abbott — expanded early voting periods in order to reduce the number of people who went to polling sites at any one time. Officials established drive-thru lanes that enabled voters to cast their ballots without getting out of their vehicles, and sought to allow more people to vote by mail, until state Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an order prohibiting the expansion, and the Texas Supreme Court supported his order.
SB 7 seeks to shorten early voting times, add more restrictions to mail-in voting and ban drive-thru voting outright. It also would restrict voting on Sunday; many churches across the state encourage people to create carpools to go vote when they leave Sunday services. It also provides for videotaping of the ballot counting process and allows interested parties to appoint watchers to stay with the ballots at the precincts, accompany them to the counting location and be present during the tabulation. Unattached members of the public, however, would be banned from the counting location.
Sunday’s walkout is much like a similar protest that occurred in 2003, when Republican lawmakers sought to redraw political districts in order to capture more congressional seats, even though those districts had been redrawn just two years earlier.
That issue was settled after a series of lawsuits that led the Supreme Court to rule that while the Constitution requires redistricting after every 10-year census, it does not prohibit additional redistricting. The new districts were drawn, although they were reworked after courts ruled the initial boundaries were discriminatory and thus unconstitutional.
This seems the fate that awaits the current voting bill. A special session already is planned in the fall for the latest redistricting effort. Other unresolved issues might be added to that session, or another session might be convened before then. SB 7 is sure to be among those issues, in addition to certain issues Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants addressed.
Democrats can’t stay away forever, and their boycott is probably only postponing the inevitable. In the end it might make little difference if they pledge to participate fully in the special sessions, let the process play out, and let the courts decide.