(AP) — It was getting close to midnight, and the Texas House of Representatives
was about to approve one of the most stringent new voting laws in the country.
At 10:35 p.m., every Democrat remaining on the floor received a text message.
“Members, please take your keys and quietly exit the chamber; do not go to the gallery; and leave the building.”
The walkout began, and Senate
Bill 7 was killed minutes later. Without enough House members to conduct business
under the rules before a midnight deadline Sunday, Texas Republicans
were forced to abandon for the time being an elections
overhaul they had crammed with previously unseen restrictions during closed-door negotiations, including one prohibiting Sunday morning early voting
— a time widely used.
In the unlikely event of a “call of the House” — an extreme remedy to secure a quorum, mobilizing state troopers to forcibly bring absent members back — Democrats
chose a hideout that was unmistakably symbolic: Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
After months of losses in GOP-controlled statehouses, where Republicans have rushed to enact a wave of strict voting laws in response to former President Donald Trump
's false claims that the 2020 election
was stolen from him, the rebellion provided Democrats and voting rights
allies across the country with a morale-boosting moment.
The walkout in Texas, however, is likely to be a fleeting victory: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott
, who had declared new voting laws a priority in Texas, barely waited for every Democrat to flee the House floor before declaring that he would call a special session to finish the job, and he has already begun punishing lawmakers, saying Monday that he would veto the part of the state budget that funds legislation.
'"There will be no pay for those who refuse to accept their responsibilities," Abbott tweeted.
He has not stated when he intends to reintroduce lawmakers into the legislative process.
“I understand why they were doing it,” said Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain, who carried the bill in the House, “but we all swore to Texans
that we would be here to do our jobs
The Texas bill, which was 67 pages long, would have reduced polling hours, empowered poll watchers, and restricted voting options, including a ban on drive-thru voting centers and 24-hour polling places, both of which were used last year around Houston
, reflecting how Republicans went after Texas' largest Democratic stronghold.
Many were ideas Democrats had fought for months, but they objected to others being snuck in at the last minute, including not only new early voting limits for Sunday, but also a provision that could make it easier to overturn an election. Under the bill, a judge could void a candidate's victory if the number of fraudulent votes
cast could change the outcome, regardless of whether it was legal or not.
It's the kind of provision that could allow a favorable judge to side with a candidate who makes broad claims of fraud with little specific evidence — as Trump did with little success — and Democrats and voting groups were especially concerned about it because the GOP has continued to embrace Trump even after he tried to overturn the 2020 election on phony claims of widespread fraud.
Democrats gathered in a back room with Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan hours before the vote was scheduled for Sunday.
“We weren’t getting satisfactory answers about why the bill had gotten so much worse,” Democratic state Rep. Gina Hinojosa said. “Most of us left that meeting understanding that this was our only option.”
But even before that, Hinojosa said, momentum toward a walkout was building, with a meeting of Black and Hispanic lawmakers in the House revealing “an anger, a sadness, an intolerance” about allowing the bill to pass. Another option was to run out the clock, but that carried more risk: Hinojosa said Democrats received word that any attempt to filibuster
the bill would result in Republicans filibustering the bill.
Democrats staged a quorum break in Texas for the first time in nearly two decades.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 14 states
have enacted new laws tightening voting restrictions this year, with these laws typically being muscled through by Republican-controlled state legislatures and swiftly signed by GOP governors.
“We’ve seen example after example in Republican state legislatures, and this is the culmination in terms of its raw racism
and restricting the ability of brown and Black voters
to vote,” said Fred Wertheimer, founder of the voting rights group Democracy
Democrats and voting rights advocates are also hoping that Texas will give a boost to the For the People Act
, also known as HR1. The bill has been stalled in the Senate because some Democrats are unwilling to end the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
has scheduled debate on the bill to begin in late June in the hopes of breaking the impasse, and activists hope the bill will pass.
Democrats are hoping, at the very least, that the walkout bought them some time, as they left the church after midnight.
“We may have won the battle tonight, but the war is far from over,” Democratic state Rep. Nicole Collier said.
This article was contributed to by Associated Press
writers Nicolas Riccardi in Denver
and Acacia Coronado in Los Angeles